Skift Take

Airbnb has intensified its testing of Google's vacation rentals business. Does this mean Airbnb will fall down a rabbit hole of Google dependence? Not necessarily. Romances can be so fleeting.

The decision won’t impact either Airbnb or Google’s business for now. But, in three to five years? It might indeed.

After tossing its listings into Google’s vacation rental product in Europe and Asia about a month ago, some of Airbnb’s apartment and vacation home listings in the United States are now appearing in Google as well.

So if you do a Google search for Austin, Texas or New York City vacation rentals, you’ll see an Airbnb listing for a six-bedroom villa, and a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, respectively.

Airbnb declined to comment about the development.

It’s unclear how much inventory Airbnb is placing into Google’s vacation rental product, and the initiative is clearly a test.

Google waded into its own vacation rental advertising business on its travel pages early in 2019, and in October began giving vacation rentals hotel-like treatment in Google search. 

So when you do a Google search for “NYC vacation rentals,” below some sponsored links you’ll see a four-pack of vacation rental listings with rates, photos, star ratings, descriptions, and a prominent map that likewise depicts the rates for each property. This feature usually appears in Google search above any free links on desktop and mobile.

When users click on one of the listings in the four-pack advertising unit, they navigate to Google’s travel pages, where they can read review snippets from Airbnb, TripAdvisor, or Vrbo, for example, select dates, view rates, and then book the stay on the provider’s website.

For now, Google’s vacation rental listings on its travel pages are unlike its hotel offering in important ways. For hotels, various online travel agency and hotel advertisers display their sometimes-disparate rates for each property; in vacation rentals only one vendor appears per property.

Is Participating in Google an Existential Question?

We spoke to at least one prominent vacation rental executive whose company participates in the Google vacation rental offering, and he said the volumes his company gets from the Google product is minimal at this juncture. But Google is testing the optimal way to present its new vacation rentals business, and it will undoubtedly draw stronger demand over time.

Airbnb’s entry into Google vacation rentals in the United States, supplementing Airbnb’s Google participation in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa, comes at a time when travel companies are debating whether hitching their fates with Google is a plus or minus.

In releasing their respective third quarter financial results, both Expedia Group and TripAdvisor put part of the blame on their soft results on Google stealing market share.

Booking Holdings, however, notched a strong third quarter, and argued that Google search engine optimization — or the science of getting the best traffic from free links on Google — isn’t a big part of Booking’s business.

There were a lot of whispers in the past couple of weeks that perhaps Expedia Group and TripAdvisor were putting too much blame on Google for their sub-par third quarters. Perhaps the two companies just weren’t executing well, this line of thinking goes.

Skift asked Expedia Group CEO Mark Okerstrom at the company’s partner conference in Las Vegas a week ago whether he was scapegoating Google, and he responded that’s not the case. Although Expedia Group notched room night growth of 11 percent in the third quarter, Okerstrom said Google headwinds are becoming more intense.

Okerstrom said to the extent Google diverts more formerly free traffic toward its own products, forcing Expedia Group to put more resources into higher-cost marketing channels, then that’s a negative for Expedia. Okerstrom said he’s confident, though, that Expedia will attract healthy new customer growth over the long term.

While Expedia Group has been part of Google vacation rentals since its debut earlier this year, and Airbnb is testing it in various locations around the world, Booking Holdings is notably absent. Booking’s Agoda unit had been participating in Google vacation rentals, but exited the feature as it apparently prefers to build its own direct traffic, or is looking for a better deal from Google.

The entire travel industry is grappling with how to relate to Google these days, and whether devoting so much of their marketing budgets is a smart strategy when Google relentlessly increases its market share.

As Agoda showed when it tested participating in Google vacation rentals, but then dropped out, what you see today in Google vacation rentals — whether it is from Airbnb, Booking Holdings, Expedia Group, TripAdvisor, Vacasa or Rentals United — may disappear tomorrow.

Tactics can change in a proverbial heartbeat.


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Tags: airbnb, google, vacation rentals

Photo credit: An Airbnb Plus listing in Los Angeles. Airbnb now participates in the U.S. in Google vacation rentals. Airbnb

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