Is Google's new hotel price comparison tool a good thing?

By Chloe Riley on 10/2/2018

At the end of August, Google debuted a new mobile-specific feature allowing users to track hotel prices over time in addition to comparing prices with other, similarly priced hotels in the same destination. 

A search would go thusly: A user looks up, say, a hotel in New York City. Then, a graph appears below the search, showing the user how prices have fluctuated for that hotel over the past 30 days. There’s a feature on the same page that shows a price graph for that hotel and a set of comparable hotels. As the user scrolls across those comparable hotels, the price graph changes, indicating what that hotel is priced at versus the other comparable hotels, and how they have also fluctuated over the past 30 days. 

“I don’t think there’s anything else comparable in the industry right now that does this, that tries to digest this for a user and give them a sense of, is this a good price or not based on historical trends here,” says Richard Holden, who heads Google’s product teams in travel. “We’re trying to do this in one page on a mobile device with relatively limited screen real estate and still give you a quick insight."

Right now, Holden says, the feature is fully organic, meaning objective information with no ad opportunities (aside from a small ad module component on the page).

Price versus interest

So, what does it mean for hotels, especially from a potential revenue angle? According to Cindy Estis Green, CEO of hotel revenue management company Kalibri Labs, not much.

“Like any of these price comparison tools, what they tend to do is commoditize the product — it’s all built on pricing,” Green says. “That’s the biggest concern from a hotelier’s point of view — if we’re creating everything based on pricing, then we’re getting consumers in the mode of thinking that’s the only thing that matters.”

Green points to Facebook, which offers recommendations for and references to hotels that were given by a user’s friends and family.

“Then the company is serving up hotels based on what the consumer might actually be more interested in,” she says. “They’re approaching their search engine not on the basis of offering up the best prices, but on the basis of what is the best fit for the user.” 

“You can provide a lot of value in a search engine setting without just making it about price,” she adds. 

Not so fast, says Adam Lawley, an SEO specialist at HEBS Digital, a New York-based digital marketing company for hotels. Though Google’s new tool is solely about price for now, that doesn’t mean hotels can’t benefit from it.

“It’s really part of a continued trend of Google fighting OTAs,” Lawley says. “Rather than individuals clicking through to OTAs to compare rates and compare prices directly, Google is continuing to push to just have users and searches stay right on Google and use their tools, their ratings.” 

More than anything, according to Lawley, hotels should be looking at their SEO use and finding ways to get themselves to the top of search with respect to Google’s new tool.  

“It does open up an opportunity for hotels to use their Google local presence to leverage themselves against competitors for terms that they wouldn’t normally ever rank for organically,” he says. “It opens up another door.”

“It’s fairly simple. Google wants to become a one-stop shop for users who want to make reservations, and the biggest reason they roll out a lot more features for the hospitality industry than most others is that there is a lot more money to be made on hotel bookings,” says Sergey Alakov, an SEO specialist and consultant based in Toronto. 

“While pricing has always been one of the major factors, hotels that ranked well in local packs didn’t always have to compete on price with others, especially for less price-sensitive travelers,” Alakov adds. “This may change now when users don’t even need to spend a lot of extra time to compare prices.”

Google's new hotels price insights tool, rolled out at the end of August. The user-oriented tool shows consumers a range of prices for a given hotel over time.

Keep an eye on it

For internal sales and marketing staff at both the property and brand levels, it’s crucial to monitor user behavior and reservation numbers to see how it affects the hotel’s presence with Google’s new tool, say both Alakov and Lawley. 

According to Google’s Holden, “Our objective here, though, is really over time just to build a richer and richer hotel search experience and airline search experience as well.”

For now, he says, the tool will remain free and won’t be monetized on the user end. 

Lawley says he sees Google’s long game here as being more about users not only being able to compare prices but to give ratings and scores along the lines of TripAdvisor. 

“As they’re still sort of in testing right now, they’ll continue to play with ‘scores’ for the hotel,” Lawley says. “This is something they’ve unrolled slowly but it’s becoming about a ‘neighborhood score’ and a ‘comfort score,’ and I see reviews becoming more fleshed out around the hotel itself. I can see that becoming an increased feature with this.”

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