Google has a unique status in the online travel marketplace.
On one hand, it acts as a gatekeeper and shopping environment for consumers around the world as they research and plan future trips. On the other, it sells ads to travel companies while encouraging them to pay up to receive preferred placement on its booking tools.
As a marketer, dealing with Google is crucial because of the sheer volume of users that use its services.
The company’s dual role in the sector can cause some trepidation with its partners, who aren’t quite sure if its goals as a travel seller are separate from its enormous advertising business.
“Our partners say it doesn’t seem like it’s completely holistic in what you are trying do to,” said Rob Torres, managing director of advertising and marketing, travel sector at Google, at Skift Global Forum on Thursday in New York City. “Where are you going, and what are you going to be when you grow up? We want to be the trusted place people go when they make decisions. Hopefully that leads to more qualified and personalized leads for [our partners]. The reality is that it makes sense if you’re in Google at a vertical like travel and improve the experience for consumers. If we get more people booking and searching, I will be able to send you more leads.”
Google’s marketing arm seems to often be at odds with its travel and restaurant booking services. According to Richard Holden, vice president of product at Google in charge of Google Travel’s product roadmap, bringing personalized content to travelers is much harder in travel than in other areas like shopping or restaurant recommendations.
“The challenge we have in travel is the frequency of the use case compared to the restaurant use case,” said Holden. “I still think there is an opportunity there. There are some more thing we are going to be doing in the hotel space that we might be able to deploy to the user, but the data is a little more sparse then when it comes to restaurants.”
Google will soon add potential trips to its travel booking interface, starting in the U.S., retaining the research users have done in the past and bringing to them the next time they open Google’s travel booking sites. “We think we can tie together these pieces together to better help a user when they come back to Google to pick up where they left off,” said Holden.
Google is also deploying an update to its flight status service that will send notifications about delays to travelers.
There is more complexity in Google’s advertising suites on the horizon. Google’s hotel ad program will now merge into its Google Ads product for search marketing, as the company looks to simplify ad campaign management. The hope is that the stronger tools and analytics will better empower hotels to make smarter decisions about the types of customers they are spending on to boost conversion.
“The reality is you should only be looking at these channels if they are profitable,” said Torres. “The Google AdWords product and Google hotel product answer two questions. I don’t think it’s a one or the other. You have to look at it holistically in your ad spend. Are you looking for brand awareness or really looking to convert?”
With TripAdvisor launching a new recommendation engine with social networking features soon, would Google bring more social content and connection to its variety of consumer-facing products?
“There are things along these lines that we would do,” hinted Holden.