Today Google announced some changes to how it markets and distributes hotel inventory, making it easier for hotels to list their properties directly on its site -- and to collect leads seamlessly on mobile devices -- while skipping middlemen like online travel agencies (OTAs) and other metasearch sites.
In a shift from its earlier years in hotel metasearch, Google is experimenting with a commission-based model that's like what OTAs use, rather than cost-per-click.
The offer is available only in the US, so far.
CORRECTION: Google has followed up with Tnooz to say that the Hotel Ads Commission Program is worldwide. What is currently US-only is the Book on Google feature. I regret the error.
Google's Tom Mulders, senior program manager, travel, released the search giant's first public statement on the projects today, confirming a program that Tnooz was the first media outlet to report was in testing with a handful of independent hotels this summer.
For hotel owners, the big news is that the company is now offering a clear path to revenue managers who want to sign up with the new Google Hotel Ads Commission Program.
There was no hint on what commission rates might be.
Hotels that have connected their property management systems (PMSs) with a channel manager from Seekda, a hotel technology company based in Vienna, Austria, can now access Google's new commission-based listings.
Thousands of hotels have already been using Seekda to manage their hotel rates and inventory via Google and TripAdvisor.
According to a quote from Seekda:
“This new commission model gives smaller chains and independent hotels the option to participate in the highly effective Google Hotel Ads, without having to manage CPC bids and budgets.”
Google has also been partnering with DerbySoft, Accor Hotel-owned Fastbooking, Sabre Hospitality Solutions, Seekda, TravelClick, and Trust International to implement the new technology without any additional technical work on the hoteliers' parts. For example, TravelClick reports:
“Since March, hotels enrolled in TravelClick’s Demand Services program have seen, on average, a 56 percent year-over-year increase in revenue driven by Google Hotel Ads. The evolution from a pay-per-click to commission model has increased hotel revenue.”
Sabre was the first central reservation system (CRS) provider to offer participation in the commission-based program, since earlier this summer. Existing users of Sabre Hospitality's SynXis platform can participate.
There are still kinks to work out with the system, however. When Tnooz sampled hotel searches and found Morgans New York inventory available direct from Google (via a back-end powered by Sabre Hospitality systems) there was today some ugly code in the result:
UPDATE: Google tells Tnooz the bug we pointed out has been fixed since publication time.
But other independent hotels have seen good results. Tnooz found that Ocean Edge Resort in Brewster, Mass., has opted to only receive direct bookings via Google hotel search -- without any alternative via an OTA like Booking.com or Expedia.
Instant booking is expanded
In other big news, Google will be making it more common for hotels to let users book hotels directly from within the Google interface -- and without having to jump off to a hotel's own website. While Google has been doing this on mobile devices for select properties since 2013, it's only today that it is making the functionality possible across desktop and tablet devices and to simplify the process in a way to prompt more hotels to join.
Just as with TripAdvisor's instant book feature, Google sends the confirmation email to the hotel. This differs from standard practice with most OTAs, who fight to "own" the customer. The company says the instant book feature is now offered to all Hotel Ads partners and works for users in the US on mobile, tablet, and desktop devices.
Google is also competing with OTAs and metasearch providers like TripAdvisor by adding more details about amenities for American hotels. It plans to add similar amenity details for hotels in 23 other nations in the next year.
The search giant says that its goal is to make it more apparent "right in search" whether a hotel has free wifi, free breakfast, or a swimming pool, among other perks.
In other news, Google has shut down Hotel Finder, a soft brand for its metasearch. A look today at google.com/hotels had this message, "You can now search for hotels right on Google and in Google Maps and get a list of hotels with prices, photos, reviews and Street View panoramas."
EARLIER: Google quietly adds instant booking for hotels, copying TripAdvisor
RELATED: TripAdvisor nabs Marriott for Instant Booking, stock jumps 14%
CONTEXT: TravelClick sold for $930 million, giving exit to Genstar