Hotel Rates Now Featured in Google Maps ,What It is for Hoteliers

By. Matt Bitzer 23rd Apr 2011

If you are a hotelier then you may be aware of Google’s recent experiment listing hotel rates in Google Maps.  Many a General Manager has lost sleep thinking about how price-conscious customers can easily scan the room rates presented by major OTAs in each hotel’s listing within Google Maps.  Not only can consumers compare prices across all hotels in a given region, but within each hotel listing they can easily compare room rates for a single hotel offered across different sites, including OTAs.

Here’s an example of how the new feature works in Google:

1- Conduct a search in Google for hotels in a specific geographic region (for example, I chose “hotels in Chicago”).

 2- All Google searches that have a specific geographic modifier (ie, Chicago) should display the familiar Google Map box in the upper-right corner of the results.

 3- Clicking the map box will take you to the Google Places listings, the new source of online marketing panic for hoteliers.  At the very least, by now hotel owners should have claimed and fully optimized their local business listing to capture customers conducting these kinds of local searches.

 4- From here you will notice a few things.  First, above the left column of hotel listings is a check-in/check-out field that allows the user to modify the dates of their stay.  This allows for greater convenience once the users click on a specific rate as I’ll explain later. Second, you will discover that to the right of the bold, underlined hotel name in each listing is a price with a drop-down arrow.  That displayed price is the cheapest price Google was able to pull from its list of hotel rate providers as identified in the next bullet point.  As usual, clicking on the hotel name itself opens a speech bubble on the Google map itself, presenting both the location of the selected hotel and additional Google Places information for that property.

5- Click the price link and you’ll see a list of 5 total sites, composed of 4 OTAs and–at the bottom–the hotel’s official website. Hotelier heart attack #1 comes from the realization that their hotel’s official website is listed at the very bottom of the list of OTAs.  Hotelier heart attack #2 comes from the fact that their official brand listing doesn’t even offer the room rate.

6- Clicking any of the OTAs in the price drop-down takes the user straight to that hotel’s specific page within the OTA website. Fortunately for consumers, by adding the check-in/check-out fields at the top of the listings, Google makes it easy to purchase at each site by passing the selected dates over to the selected OTA.  Unfortunately for hotels, these selected dates are not currently passed through to the hotel’s official website.

 7- Once the consumer has made their decision on which site to book, they simply click the price/site they want, get taken to their selected site and begin the booking process.

Why are hotels concerned about the new Google Maps hotel pricing feature?

1- Competing with OTAs – As if hotels didn’t already have enough of a love/hate relationship with online travel agencies, now Google has placed the major OTAs and the official hotel on the same playing field, with price being the only factor differentiating the listings from one another.  This is great for budget-conscious, brand-agnostic travelers, but reduces the hotel’s competitive advantage down to a price-based one.

2- Pay to play with Google – Regardless of whether you are a Hilton, Marriott, Starwood or independent hotel, chances are your official brand pricing isn’t being displayed like they are for the OTAs.  Google hasn’t revealed their full plans for how hotels will be able to list their official website’s room rates, but most likely this advertising will come at an additional cost to hotels.

3- No pass-through dates for official hotel website – Unlike the OTA listings within Google Maps, which pass the selected check-in/check-out dates through to the OTA site, this data is not passed through should users decide to select the official hotel website.  In this instance, even if a customer entered data into the check-in fields on the Google Maps page, they will then have to reenter the dates again on the official hotel website.  It’s a small inconvenience, but the online world is measured in microseconds and even the smallest conveniences can make or break an online purchase.  It’s unclear if this will be available as a paid feature for hotel listings, but it’s unclear if this will even be possible considering each brand’s reservation systems likely require unique Google to pass the date information through in a different way.  For Google to accommodate each brand’s unique reservations system may simply be to cumbersome to execute.

4- Brand-Agnostic Deal Shoppers – Google’s new feature has effectively reduced the initial hotel purchasing decision down to a price-based one.  In a list of potential accommodations, hoteliers fear the budget-conscious traveler will happily sway from one brand to the next in search of the better deal; And Google is more than happy to accommodate.  Hoteliers see the new pricing feature as a means of placing all hotels on the same, level playing field, differentiated only by the rate of their rooms.

What does this mean for hotels?

1- No impact on organic SEO rankings – The good news is that regardless of whether or not hotels pay to have their official website rates listed, this decision will have no impact on the organic search rankings of hotel within Google.  In fact, earlier this year Google made the following statement about the new hotel pricing feature, allaying some concerns from hoteliers that all their organic SEO efforts were for naught:
“This new feature will not change the way that hotels are ranked in Google Maps. Google Maps ranks business listings based on their relevance to the search terms entered, along with geographic distance (where indicated) and other factors, regardless of whether there is an associated price.”

2- Deja Vu 2.0? – Hotels have already see this price comparison feature before in Kayak and Bing Travel, both of which make it easy for customers to enter specific cities and dates and compare rates across many different sites, including OTAs and the official hotel websites. These sites may not have generated the amount of traffic hotels typically see from Google, but they are major players in the travel world, particularly when consumers are conducting their travel research.  Yet despite these travel aggregator sites, hotels have survived.  These sites are part of the ever-evolving online travel world and they are not going away.  Hotels can either complain that things aren’t the way they used to be when everyone booked directly through the hotel website, or discover other marketing channels (like social media) and provide greater value through their official hotel website.

3- Price vs Value – While Google’s new feature does make it incredibly easy to compare hotels to competitor hotels (as well as compare pricing offered between different OTAs for a single hotel), it assumes that all travelers are brand-agnostic, price-driven shoppers, with no interest in value.  Sure, it’s difficult to overlook a lower priced offering, but most travelers won’t simply book a hotel room based on price without first doing some due diligence.  In competing with other hotels in the area, things like value-driven specials and offers, compelling professional photography, inviting website copy and brand loyalty programs all help to sway the potential guest in your favor, often in spite of a higher room rate.  In competing with OTAs, hotels should offer special packages on their official websites that add value to the guest’s stay, above what the OTA can provide.

4- Explore other channels – No business should ever be too reliant on a single marketing channel for all its revenue. Sure, Google provides a wealth of revenue for many hotels, but a comprehensive marketing plan should include more than just search traffic.  Is you hotel expanding its influence through social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Yelp and others?  Are you participating in email marketing?  What other ways is your online marketing campaign generating revenue for your hotel?  Google’s new hotel rate feature will indeed change the way hotels compete for their customers’ business on Google.  But other strategies should be in place to ensure that this one channel won’t make or break your business’s online revenue stream.

Hotels need to be aware of this new Google Maps room rate feature and how it will impact their business.  While hotels aren’t happy to have to pay to play in Google’s expanding advertising game, it’s the same game that everyone has to play.  And considering hotels have benefited from the revenue generated through Google’s free organic listings for years, it seems a small price to pay for that benefit.  Google has integrated this feature as a way of helping consumers navigate the cumbersome process of conducting online travel research and it will change the way consumers plan their travels.  Hotels need to ensure that they are providing a real value that differentiates them from their competitors beyond price, and should continue to look to other channels, such as social networking, as a way to diversify their online revenue channels.  The online travel world is always in a state of flux, and Google’s new feature is just one in an ongoing list of new technologies and sites that will change the way hotels interact with consumers online.  Hoteliers need to be prepared for these changes and should know how to use these new technologies to their benefit, rather than simply lamenting about the good ol’ days when everyone booked through the official hotel websites.

About Matt Bitzer

Matt is the co-founder and benevolent overlord of the Blue Magnet Interaction . From his humble origins as marketing manager for a small hotel online marketing agency to his rise to power at the head of ecommerce for tow flagship Hilton properties in the Washington DC area.  Matt’s entire career resides at the nexus of hospitality and

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