Hotels and the hospitality sector have been among the worst-hit sectors by the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, confining people to their residences and forcing them to accept online studying and working from home. Hotels, from Tuesday, can breathe a sigh of relief after Google announced that it was now offering a free version of its hotel listing, in addition to the paid option.
The company had taken the same route with Google Shopping and Google Flights earlier.
In a blog post, Google said, “We’re improving this experience by making it free for hotels and travel companies around the world to appear in hotel booking links, beginning this week on google.com/travel. With full access to a wider range of hotel prices, users will have a more comprehensive set of options as they research their trip and ultimately decide where to book.” A new section in Google Hotel search for “all options” has been added below the paid results, showing unpaid listings from hotels and travel companies. This move by Google comes at a time when the travel industry is still facing a crisis.
Google explained that over time, its Travel options would expand to offer more free listing opportunities. “Over time, we’ll continue building this open platform, so that all partners will have even more opportunities to highlight their information and help people book a flight, find a place to stay, or explore a new destination,” the company said.
Describing the difference between the paid and free hotel listings, Google said, “Hotel ads are paid links, ranked according to Google’s ad auction, whereas free booking links are unpaid links, ranked according to their utility to users.” Free booking links will display similar information to the paid ones, and Google said it may show free booking links alongside hotel ads within the existing booking module. Hotel partners pay no fee for free booking links, and Google doesn’t collect any payment for placement or user engagement with these links.
This move by the search giant is similar to what it did to Google Shopping in 2020, making it free for e-commerce retailers to sell on Google. A similar thing was done to Google flights. This move is set to give its users a more comprehensive look into hotel room availability as they research and plan their trips, as well as to prepare for the inevitable surge in the travel industry when the pandemic ends and normalcy is restored. Richard Holden, vice president, product management, Google Travel, said, “When travel does resume in earnest, it’s crucial that people can find the information they’re looking for and easily connect with travel companies online.”
This move by Google is not an altruistic one – at the end of the day, it will profit Google itself. If users do not need to leave the search engine to find, book, and pay for a room, that means Google’s competitors in this space like Priceline and Travelocity are deprived of potential customers, since they are all flocking at Google. It will also make Google a more reliable platform to search for bookings and compete with a host of travel booking apps and services. According to Google, the addition of the free listings will generate increased booking traffic and user engagement on its platform, and this will, in turn, expand the reach of advertisers’ Hotel Ads campaigns.
On a larger scale, the shift from paid ads to free listings will increase its viewer base and deter and counter Google’s rivals in the market. Google Shopping got the nod after Amazon has become the go-to place for users to search for products, choosing the US-based e-commerce giant over Google. The move had been succeeded by a 70% increase in clicks to the Google Shopping tab (as of June 2020), and an increase of 130% of impressions on the Shopping tab.