Think Travel with Google – video conference clips [video]

I stumbled upon these two videos uploaded to YouTube over the last few days from a travel/internet conference in South America “Think Travel with Google”.  The first has a speaker, Lothaire Ruellan from Google discussing analytics and data for travel, the second on where Google fits into travel by the CEO of The Futures Agency.  Really interesting viewpoints and information.

1. Lothaire Ruellan discussing Google analytics with a slant on RailEurope

2. Gerd Leonhard discussing where travel fits into the Google world

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As Google Hotel Finder ramps up, what do consumers think functionally?

Google Hotel Finder has been on most of our lips over the last twelve months, as we eagerly (and in some cases, nervously) await to see just how adoption of Google’s latest foray into travel goes.  This week brings about Google’s next phase of the project, opening Google Hotel Finder up to other markets outside of the US.  You can now visit your Google homepage and append /hotels to be taken right into the tool and start searching for hotels all over the world.  Exciting move.

But how will we as an industry measure the success of Google?  Of course, we will look at volumes of unique visits, searches and booking conversions, but what about pure usability?  What do end consumers think of the search process and is it what they have been looking for to rival the service provided by online travel agencies?  Let’s take a look at the tool in more detail.

So first up, we have the welcome page.  A nice idea from Google, and not something you’ll find in traditional online travel websites or chain brand.com websites.  Of course, it’s less needed in the later, but Google choose to start with a welcome and explanation of the tool because it’s new and because they are potentially collating a lot of results – the emphasis is on the power of their search and trying to understand travellers current search pain points.

There are four boxes on the left hand side detailing how you could use the tool.  Firstly, and probably the best part of the tool, is the ability to interact with the search results, displayed on a Google Map to be very specific about your hotel location draw any shaped area to automatically filter results.  Secondly, there is a location search designed so you can look at common tourist areas.  Thirdly, users are able to create a short-list of hotels, particularly useful as Google Hotel Finder will aim to return vast numbers of results and lastly, highlighting that you are able to compare hotel results to get the best value for money.

Then come the results….

For the purposes of this post, I’ve based my search on London.  Interestingly, when I start out with Google Hotel Finder, I’m not asked for any search criteria, only my destination.  This is really unusual in the online search world, but it actually works very well.  Google then take me to their map display, showing pinpoints of all the hotels in the given city, with more detailed hotel descriptions and options listed in a scrollable side panel to the left.  This is working on a principle that we will show the user every possibility, then given them to the chance to strip back the results to exactly what they want.  First of all, you are automatically prompted to enter a date and duration on the calendar.

Each time you apply a search criteria / filter, the results map and hotel listing dynamically update, and we begin to see a customised display.

Next comes the clever bit, and my favourite feature of Google Hotel Finder.  Here is the chance to set a search radius.  The user is no longer governed to search in or around a or attraction, but can actually draw an area over the map results to specifically ask Google to only recommend hotels in that geographic area. You are also not restricted to use a box of circle, you can draw any shape at all to cover any area of the city you wish to view, as shown below.

I really think this a great feature of the tool, especially for large cities that have numerous hotels.  No longer does a traveller have to be price or brand lead.  Sure, many OTA’s and even brand websites utilise map displays, but all tend to rely on a very generic “I want to be in New York” logic rather than being able to specify your very own, unique location demands.

Next, you are able to really start homing in on your perfect hotel by applying a range of filters and criteria, from filtering results by price, star rating (both ascending and descending  user rating, amenities and ‘price compared to usual’.

At any point in the process, you can browse for hotels via the detailed list on the left hand side.  Clicking on  a given hotel will replace your map display with a detailed view of the chosen hotel where you can start to look at photos, general information about the hotel and look at Google’s user-generated content.  You can also start adding hotels to a favourites list so you can flick between properties you are trying to choose between.

In all of my searches, when I try to book, I have no alternative to facilitate my booking with Booking.com and certainly outside the US, I’ve struggled to find over OTA’s where I’m directed to make the booking.  Most hotels also have their brand.com website listed, but a lot of the independent hotels out there are missing this information, so here’s out first action point for the smaller hotels out there.

In fact, a lot of people complain about multinational hotel websites (TripAdvisor springs to mind) saying they can’t get access to their own hotels content or update details.  Google Hotel Finder actually make it very clear how you can do this and ways to improve and add your content – for any hoteliers reading this post, I’d really urge you to take a look at this early and make sure your details are up to date.

This tool really was made for complex city searches… when I tried to plan a trip to New York, I entered the same search on Google Hotel Finder, Booking.com and Expedia – guess which was best to use?

So, functionally as a search tool, I think Google Hotel Finder ticks a lot of the boxes. I’ve been very impressed with the content and usability of the website, especially the map shopping, and for this reason I think it will be a success.  Quite how quickly, I’m not sure as there are lots of ‘quirks’ that need to be ironed out, but this will come in time. One thing’s for sure – Google want to succeed in travel and have invested heavily to do so.  This is one piece of the jigsaw, and we, the hotel community would be naive to close out eyes to it.  Whether we are hoteliers, working in distribution or we are online sellers of hotels, a brand new, free tool like this will have implications for us all.  I include in this statement the word ‘sellers’.  What’s to say that Travel Management Companies don’t start sourcing best available rates with Google Hotel Finder?  Or high street travel agencies and hotel booking agencies?  In fact, at a recent HBAA Technology conference, this notion was being explored.   This tool really does have a proof point for all sectors.  As such, I’ll be writing more posts on Google Hotel Finder shortly, looking at the commercial aspects of the tool and seeing how hotel chains, independents and third-party companies can, and are working with Google in this intriguing new platform.

I’d love to hear what you think of the tool, the project and how you think it will impact the hospitality industry.  Please do leave a comment.  Thanks for listening.

Introducing Google Now

Maybe I’m a little behind with this, but I’ve only just discovered Google Now, the latest Google project.  Take a look.

Pegasus offer Google Hotel Price Ads to drive search traffic direct

I noticed a very interesting announcement today from Pegasus.  For those that don’t know them, Pegasus are a leader in hotel distribution to hotels, serving around 100,000 properties around the world.  For this reason, I’m always keen to hear what tools they are developing for hotels to improve their distribution strategies.  Today, Pegasus communicated that one of their divisions, Open Hospitality, is now offering Google Hotel Price Ads (HPA) to hotels following a successful pilot with more than 50 hotels.  Those hotels using Open Hospitality reservation and booking services can opt to drive traffic from search results in Google Search, Google Maps, Google Places and the Google Hotel Finder directly to the brand website to increase more profitable direct bookings.

Davis Millili, Chief Executive Officer of Pegasus Solutions commented: “Google has emerged as a central channel in the hotel shopping process.  It may be used for a quick reference or as the actual booking channel, but it can’t be ignored as one capable of driving valuable direct business to hotel websites.”

Leveraging existing reservation and booking products and services, Open Hospitality can serve real-time pricing through Google searches for participating clients, allowing bookers to be redirected to the hotel website for booking. Google Hotel Price Ads accommodates customers who prefer to book hotels directly with the hotel, sending online shoppers directly to the brand website.  In addition to creating opportunity for more profitable direct bookings, this has the added benefit of allowing hotels to sell ancillary products, such as dining, spa services, events or other amenities in the booking process.  Mirroring the airline ancillary business which is starting to grow considerable seems to be a natural step for some hotel chains.

Of course, driving traffic direct to you own brand website is a critical aim of any distribution strategy you have.  This is where you make the most money – no costs to OTA’s or third parties – and it also allows you to control your pricing and brand identify more clearly. We talk a lot about ways to do this, and certainly this new offering from Pegasus provided a different approach to try to drive traffic.

 

World Wonders Project by Google [video]

Quite by accident I noticed the announcement from Google about their World Wonders Project and it really intrigued me.  I’ve been talking about it with some technology friends on Twitter today and it’s pulled all of our attention, so I found the promotional Google video about the project to share with you.  I bet you’ll take a look after you’ve seen this.  It really is Google doing what Google does best.

Will the Google Hotel Finder “Experiment” become an OTA? [video]

A short video from REVPAR GURU’s Vice President – Bruno Perez on Google Hotel Finder. He’s right – add a search button – job done – and the hotel industry changes overnight.  I’d like to hear more from this guy, and I’ll share anything else I find on the topic (there is another post planned to follow-up from the last).

An experiment in finding the perfect hotel – Google Hotel Finder

I’ve been looking at the new Google Hotel Finder over the last week and have to say I’m pretty impressed on a number of levels.  For those of you that have not heard of this, it’s the latest in a long line of new products from Google, who appear to be taking over the world (if they haven’t already).  Google Hotel Finder is Google’s first real bite at the travel industry, and with a simple idea and using their existing technology, they’ve made a good start.

Currently in “experiment” mode, Google hotel Finder is a simple idea.  Add a location and dates, and browse for your perfect hotel based around Google Maps. You can also add price preferences, start and user ratings to narrow your search. Simple!

The “experiment” is only available for USA hotels but you can see the appeal of searching for a hotel in this way – something that isn’t widely used amongst online travel agencies.  Some of the tech companies do use map searches of course, as well as some of the GDS, but not to this scale. 

If you leave your search open, results are displayed in a listing view with a thumbnail photo, with hotel class, user rating, price per night and a fourth column which details the typical saving from a published rate.

You can also search with a more advanced map search:

Good Hotel Finder comes into its own when you click on a property, and are greeted with a great hotel profile display.  Images are returned from VFM Leonardo as you would probably expect, and Google have done a good job in bringing this page together.  The shopping part works well with Google, so when you come to book, your directed to a range of supplier websites, such as Booking.com, Travelocity, Hotels.com, Priceline and the actual property website.

Google will win people with this solution for one simple reason.  Speed.  It’s so quick. There’s no loading time, no waiting around for websites to respond and irritating circles appearing whilst requests are processed.  But what does it mean for the hotel industry?  In my opinion, if this product is launched globally as Google intend, it could well create a level playing field for OTA’s and hoteliers alike to win business.  Essentially, your being sold the hotel by search with Google.  Then it’s down to price – if the properties own website price is cheapest, you’ll book there.  If it’s Booking.com, you’ll go there.  In simple terms, I think a mass adoption of Google Hotel Finder could bring rate parity back in line.

Of course there are many unanswered questions, for instance, how do you get your hotel listed?  I can’t see how you do this yet, but imagine Google have plugged in various CRS providers to push the content, people such as Pegasus, Utell and the other representation companies (I would think bypassing GDS).  Of course, when the product moves from “experiment” mode, we’ll find out more.  Certainly one to watch and it could have major impacts on the hotel industry – but very impressed already.