When it comes to Google and its hotels redesign, few things are all or nothing. TripAdvisor can worry that Google now has more traveler photos and reviews, but some of them are from TripAdvisor. Hotel websites and phone numbers get featured, but clicking on a book button brings customers to an online travel agency site. In travel, it's never winner take all.
Why ever stop searching for travel on Google and turn to a hotel or online travel agency site when you can book your hotel right there without leaving Google?
Booking hotels worldwide on Google just became more prominent on its U.S. site in a redesign of Google hotels on desktop that the company announced Wednesday in a blog post. Google plans to roll out the redesign, which was introduced on mobile earlier this year, worldwide in phases.
In the past couple of years, Google has experimented with taking hotel bookings on behalf of online travel agency or hotel partners, but you would have to search for hours to find such an instance. Otherwise, you would more commonly click over to a partner site to complete a booking. The feature was introduced in 2015.
But in a redesign of the entire Google hotel search — and booking — experience there are multiple displays in the course of browsing for hotels where you can find the Google booking feature.
In fact, if you book a hotel on Google, you can now even contact Google via an online form if you have a problem. You can see the details of how Google says booking hotels on on its sites works in a PDF we posted below.
When you search Google for Rio de Janeiro hotels and click on Days Inn Rio de Janeiro, you can select your dates and click over to an online travel agency site to book a room, but there is also an advertisement from Booking Holdings company Agoda, with photos and rates for a superior twin room, superior double room and a queen bed nonsmoking room. The phrases Reserve Now and Free Cancellation are highlighted.
For hotels in other destinations, such as the New York Marriott Downtown, the Google booking ad comes from multiple partners, such as Agoda and Expedia’s Travelocity. We also saw such Google booking ads from Expedia’s Orbitz.
When the user clicks on Reserve Now, you see the following image, and the text that You’re Booking on Travelocity, Powered by Google, for example. “We will securely pass your reservation and payment details to Travelocity, who will handle customer support once the booking is complete. Learn more. ” [Grammar note to Google: It should be “which” will handle, not “who.”]
When you click on the “learn more” link you find out that you can pay with Google Pay if signed into your Google account; that Travelocity will handle customer service and send a confirmation email in this example, although Google will also send a summary email; and that the customer can contact Google if they have a problem with Travelocity and get no response. Some hotels and online travel agency partners will requirement payment in full at the time of the booking, and others will allow you to pay at the hotel.
Through the Google booking feature, Google moves toward becoming a quasi online travel agency. No, Google is not the merchant of record; you can’t cancel your room through Google (as far as we know), but you can pay through Google by entering your credit card information or saving it and using Google Pay. So as the Google booking feature gains traction, some users many choose to do most, if not all, of their travel purchases on Google.
It is certainly a complicated dynamic — as are many things in the travel industry — in that Booking Holdings and Expedia Group companies are buying ads on Google to sell their services when Google users can remain on Google to complete their purchases.
The ad that shows Google’s booking partners is its Room Booking Module in which partners bid for placement. In addition to Travelocity, Orbitz, and Agoda, Google has other online travel agency partners and even hotels bidding for placement in the ads and to be a booking partner, depending on the location.
Google introduced the Room Booking Module in March on a Google Hotels page that was much more cluttered than is the current version after the redesign. The result is that the entire page is more appealing, and the Google booking feature stands out more than it did in the past.
In addition to the new prominence of Google’s booking capabilities, the following are some other takeaways from the Google hotel search redesign.
1. It Sure Is Pretty
1. The redesign features hotel and destination photos, as well as Google Maps with hotel prices, prominently in Google search and throughout the user experience. It looks fairly attractive.
2. Still the Same Old Search Bias
Google still preferences its own hotel metasearch and booking feature to the detriment of competitors’ businesses. That hasn’t changed. Paid ads sit atop the Google hotels feature, and free organic links are well down below on the page.
On the other hand, Google argues that it is merely trying to improve the search experience to the benefit of users, and that the hotels that appear in its initial search results appear there organically.
Although — again — it’s all complicated. Google’s travel competitors, companies such as Expedia, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, and many others, aren’t benefiting from free links on Google to the extent they did in years past, but they are making money as paid advertisers in Google Hotels.
3. User-Generated Photos and Reviews
There are a lot more user-written reviews and consumer-taken photos in Google’s redesign of hotel search on desktop. Google users can access guest reviews that were penned on Booking.com, Expedia, and TripAdvisor — and we even saw some from Ritz Carlton — and users now have the option to view consumer photos of hotels and their rooms, and not just hotel-provided promotional photos.
The first sentence or two of user reviews appear on Google, and when users click on them they navigate to the site where they initially appeared.
4. Google Hotel Search is a Mixed Bag for Hotels
When you click on a hotel photo in Google search, you navigate to a page where the hotel name, address, star designation, phone number and a website button appear near the top of the page, beneath photos of the property. But consider the buttons that are highlighted in various blue tones: “Book a Room” and “Deal $88, 17% less than usual,” in the Yotel New York example below. When the user clicks on the “Book a room” button or the Deal $88 button,” they don’t navigate to the hotel website, but go straight to Google’s comparison shopping ads in Google Hotels.
5. Appealing Bells and Whistles
There are lots of appealing new tweaks in the redesign: For example, you can now search hotels for guest favorites, budget options, luxury stays, and more.
6. Google’s Bow to HotelTonight
In Google’s hotel search redesign, there is even a new filter for search for hotels “for tonight.” When a used selects on that filter and chooses a hotel, Google fills in today’s date and tomorrow’s departure by default, making it easier if the customer is looking for a stay tonight. Then consumers can book the hotel in two ways: navigating to a third party site, or booking the property without leaving Google through a partnership with Orbitz or Travelocity, for example.
7. Alternative Accommodations Get More Love
Although we couldn’t find in our initial searches through the hotels redesign, Google shows in its blog post that it offers vacation rental options when users search. Consumers might see a message: “Vacation rentals are also available for your dates.”
Photo credit: Pictured is the Radisson Blu Hotel in Kayseri, Turkey. On October 31, Google users could book the hotel without leaving Google through a Google partnership with Orbitz and Travelocity. 299657