Google is following its hotel playbook in giving its own vacation rental and apartments business preferential treatment in Google search. As antitrust regulators take a look at Google's practices, and if travel is part of the review, this twist will be high on the agenda.
Google took the next step in its own vacation rental and apartments business, giving it special treatment with a four-pack display of rates, photos, reviews, and a map within Google search — and placement above other travel companies’ organic results.
With the alternative accommodations sector one of the fastest-growing segments in travel around the world, Google’s move is an assertion that it will be a major force.
Previously, listings looked like any other results in Google search or they were tucked into hotel search within Google’s new one-stop shopping platform, Google Trips.
However, now In Google search on desktop and mobile, if you search for vacation rentals in Chicago, Singapore, Mexico City, or London, for example, the keywords will trigger four results in a box from vendors including Vrbo, Agoda, Red Awning, Hotels.com, Expedia, Vacasa, Rentals United, and others.
Prominently missing in action from the roster of Google vacation rentals participants is Airbnb.
While a vacation rentals search in Google produces a display of listings very similar to the way Google treats its own hotel business, there is an important difference — for now. When the user clicks or taps on a vacation rental and navigates to the next page on Google Trips, there is no auction among competing companies in vacation rentals as there is with hotels. Instead, for each vacation rental or apartment, users see a listing from only one company.
Google executives have said at Skift forums that they want to nail the user experience before further monetizing its vacation rental and apartments business.
A search for Chicago vacation rentals, produces a four-pack of listings as in this image:
In this example, these listings come from Vrbo and Vacasa. It is important to note that Google maintains that these listings are organically generated, and are not paid for. However, some would consider that semantics because the 4-pack of listings with this preferential treatment are a gateway into Google’s own travel business, where it receives compensation when users click to book with companies such as Vrbo, Vacasa, Hotels.com or Agoda.
And in the Chicago example, truly organic listings — meaning search results that show up for free — from companies including HomeToGo, Vrbo, Expedia, and Booking.com, appear below the “fold” and are largely out of view on the first page or screen. This is especially acute on mobile where a user would have to keep scrolling and scrolling to view an unpaid result.
Nicola Simionato, director of business development, Travel at Google, presented Google’s new vacation rental initiative Saturday at the Vacation Rental World Summit in Lake Como, Italy.
Andrew McConnell, CEO of vacation rental management company Rented, tweeted about the presentation, saying a presence in Google’s new vacation rental search boosts traffic 10-fold, according to Simionato.
— Andrew McConnell (@MAMcConnell) October 5, 2019
When users click on the Sonder listing from Vrbo in the Chicago 4-pack display, they navigate to Google Trips, where they can view photos, select dates and the number of guests, read reviews, view the rate, and select Book to navigate to Vrbo to complete their reservation.
For now, the Google Trips homepage has buttons for hotels, flights, explore and packages. Users will only see vacation rentals if they start from Google Trips — as opposed to beginning their experience from Google Search — once they click on the hotels tab.
While users from the United States, for example, can see Google’s new treatment of vacation rentals and apartments, it’s unclear how many markets in terms of points of sale that Google has launched the feature into. It’s believed to be roughly around eight to 10 markets.
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Photo credit: A HomeAway vacation rental in Majorca, Spain. Google has given vacation rentals new high-profile treatment in Google Search. HomeAway