Travel metasearch companies have expressed fears of a possible Google metasearch market penetration as early as 2009, and, although at the time Google denied any intentions of becoming active in this niche, with Google Hotel Ads, the search behemoth is already the leading hotel metasearch provider in the world, at least according to research by Fastbooking.
Fastbooking, which is a French digital services provider owned by Accor, concluded after a recent research that Google Hotel Ads is the “most important advertising channel for hotels outpacing Google AdWords.” And even more: “As Google is integrating the ads deeper into its search results, maps, and other products, it is poised to become one of the leading hotel metasearch providers in the market.”
The company states bluntly that “Google Hotel Ads currently has the most qualified traffic of all metasearch providers.” The statement gains weight if we consider that Google Hotel Ads is a competitive tool for hotels of all sizes, whether sole-owner boutiques or mega-chains. Google’s AdWords background paved the way for precise geotargeting in Google Hotel Ads, and, at least for now, this is a significant advantage for hoteliers who want to explore alternative marketing channels instead of counting on OTAs.
A bit of history
Back in 2009, as we’ve already mentioned, Steve Hafner, the CEO of metasearch giant Kayak, predicted that Google was about to begin displaying hotel prices in SERPs, a disruptive move that challenged competition in the following years. Google Hotel Finder followed in 2011, another move that raised eyebrows and caused panic among the industry’s oldest players.
With Google Hotel Ads launched in 2015 to replace Google Hotel Price Ads, the company made a bold move that shortly translated into market domination. Google Hotel Ads matured in 2016 and became a market leader in early 2017, perhaps one of Google’s most successful products to date regarding time and value.
Whatever main metasearch actors like Trivago, TripAdvisor, Kayak, CheapOair, HotelsCombined, and Skyscanner have to offer is likely to fail without a Google presence. Most of these companies have Google AdWords accounts, spending small fortunes on Google Ads. But Google Hotel Ads is a channel that addresses hotels directly.
“Metasearch, notably Google Hotel Ads, are strong allies to Independent hotels,” as Fastbooking CMO Jean-Louis Boss noted earlier this year.
Another expert, Lily McIlwain of 4 hoteliers, puts things bluntly: “for good or ill, Hotel Ads’ prominence and popularity make them a fairly reliable and uncomplicated first step for hoteliers just entering the world of metasearch.” She goes on with solid arguments that Google is already ahead of the competition because it controls search. Whether this is an unfair advantage or not, it’s a matter of debate.
Why Google Hotel Ads dominates the market
The answer is pretty obvious: because Hotel Ads is a Google endeavor, although, in all fairness, Google had its share of fails. But Hotel Ads is not a random move: it has been carefully planned for many years. A patent filed in 2009 by Google targets “marketing reservations in the hospitality and other related industries via the internet.” This is indicative of Google’s intentions at the time but also gives a clear picture of why this particular company succeeds and dominates where other pioneers fail. Google doesn’t offer the first metasearch solution on the market, but according to most stats and experts, it offers the best.
The research by Fastbooking is a drop in the bucket. The Google metasearch dominance was anticipated as early as 2015. Back then, Nicholas Ward, president of Koddi, predicted that Google would grow to be “one of the largest metasearch drivers of hotel bookings in the U.S.” Only two years later, Google ranks above the main players in terms of volume and value in the world.
“The integration of maps and trips into its hotel ads makes Google the best hotel metasearch service provider,” says Bas van Straten and his arguments stand. To these, consider Google’s Book on Google move, a feature that allows users to book a hotel without leaving the search engine. Also, at the end of July 2017, Google has introduced vacation rentals and not just hotels in its search results, testing the waters with about 7,000 property listings in Europe. You can expect more in the future.
Image credit: Alexey boldin on Deposit Photos
When it comes to Google, predicting that they want to take over a certain market is a safe bet. Presently, travel and hospitality are the most attractive, because Google has enough content input to justify moves as “serving” the users before serving businesses. Travel is one of Google’s top ad revenue sources, and although the company insists it won’t become an online travel agent with full booking capabilities, companies like Expedia and Priceline worry about a future of Google dominance in their specific niches. If history teaches us anything, in 2009, Google can change its tunes at will.
Instead of conclusion
Regardless of the tools given and promised by Google, hoteliers and all other businesses should understand that the benefits are short-lived. Mike Blumenthal, a well-known expert in Google Places, Google Maps, and local search, puts everyone on notice that their listing at Google is for Google’s well-being and any benefits that you may accrue are rented not owned. Keep in mind that in late June 2017 the European Commission fined Google €2.42 billion for breaching EU antitrust rules. According to EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager, “Google has come up with many innovative products and services that have made a difference in our lives. That's a good thing. But Google's strategy for its comparison shopping service wasn't just about attracting customers by making its product better than those of its rivals. Instead, Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results and demoting those of competitors. What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation.”
With metasearch, specifically, when it comes to Google Hotel Ads, you should keep up with the trends. To do so, subscribe to the Think with Google newsletter for the latest marketing research and digital trends with data reports and articles from Google. You should also follow specialty sites like ours, or hospitality news sites like Hospitality Net, Skift, EyeForTravel, eHotelier, and others.