Google Places’ Hotel Booking Feature

April 7th, 2011 by Search Influence University

It’s been nearly four years since I’ve left New Orleans on any kind of leisure trip, but this weekend, I’ll be out on the road to Austin for my first “I’m an adult” vacation. Leading, for the most part, a frugal and boring existence, the task of planning a vacation is one that’s both foreign and daunting for me. This trip marks the first time I’ve ever booked a hotel on my own, and how did I go about booking?

Really, how else would I have booked a hotel room for below $100 per night within 20 minutes of my intended destination only a couple of days before I actually left for a major cultural hub? It turns out that Google actually has an answer, which would’ve been some help had I found it before I booked.

Though relatively quietly, Google has begun to place the ability for customers to book a stay directly on hotels’ Google Places pages. This addition to the site is similar to their “Shopping” section where users can compare prices for a certain product between multiple retailers and ultimately deal with one that meets their needs. Here, however, the customer will not be dealing with a seemingly faceless online retailer shipping out goods but rather directly with a business whose quality of service is readily accessible by a few mouse clicks.

As depicted above, potential guests have multiple options available for booking directly from Google, mostly through a number of popular travel sites, but also directly through the hotel. How exactly does this newish feature affect the involved parties?

First of all, and who I can actually identify with, is the Internet user who’s looking for a hotel room that will totally rule. Places pages have always been a great source to learn more about a business so that you can determine if you’d like to deal with them. With the addition of this feature for hotels, being able to find out how well a hotel presents itself as interpreted by user input and book on the exact same page is pretty convenient. As mentioned above, your options for booking at a particular hotel aren’t limited to any one site, so the convenience of having all of this information presented is much better than the individual travel sites offer on their own.

Realistically, however, the presentation of this information will not change search habits unless Google intends to push this service in a direction similar to that of these big travel sites. My method of booking was looking up “cheap hotels” in general, then going to one of a number of sites to find a place in Austin. This bypassed what Google had to offer on their own and, honestly, netted me a better deal than what Google was advertising. Keep in mind that this is an example only of my personal search habits; searching for “hotel in Austin” or anything similar as a normal person may have will bring the user to the Places page, from where they can choose to book however they please.

Through whichever entity the future guest to a hotel decides to book with is up to that user, but this feature actually gives a foothold for the independent hotel owner to net more profits. According to Mike Blumenthal, by buying pay per click ads directly through Google to place on their page, they can trim the hefty fees associated with listing on such sites as Expedia and Hotwire. By owning a Google Places page, a hotel owner can more effectively drive business directly to the hotel and create a positive connection with the customer base. Though according to Google, the ability to book through Google’s links “will not change the way that hotels are ranked in Google Maps,” thereby having no effect on SEO, an independent hotel is still getting exposure at a better price from Google than with the big travel sites.

What, then, of the big travel sites? Even if it seems that Google’s edging in on their territory, they still have distinct advantages. Services offered by the likes of Travelocity and friends extend beyond just booking hotels and into full travel packages. Google doesn’t offer links to car rental intermediaries if you visit a car rental location’s Places page, nor does it if you visit an airport’s location. They may have something to worry about if Google decides to extend the present booking capabilities to other areas of travel, though strictly in the realm of hotels, this change may shift the power more to the hotels than large booking agencies.

In my opinion, this is not a bad thing. The ultimate winners from this feature are Google, hotel owners, and the individual user. Major travel sites may see a slight decrease in hotel bookings, but the advantages that they have over direct hotel bookings will continue to keep their heads above water. The internet is constantly evolving, and these sites will have to adapt to whatever changes or disappear. Meanwhile, the individual user will be able to benefit from the additional information available through Google’s Places pages, and we, at Search Influence, won’t see any of our clients’ results negatively affected by this. I, however, wish I would have known about this recent Google feature before I decided to book my mystery hotel room for this weekend, but at least it let me know that I saved around twenty bucks per night by booking through Hotwire! Thanks for everything, Google, and I can’t wait to see what cool new things you have coming to us in the future.