How will Google Maps with hotel pricing, which the search engine is testing in a variety of global markets, shape up against the hotel offerings of metasearch players such as Kayak?
As various hotel technology providers begin to provide data to Google for its Google Hotel Price Ads program, some of the differences between Google's approach and the methods of travel metasearch firms are beginning to emerge.
The Google Hotel Price Ad program enables OTAs and hotel websites to display room rates on Google Maps and then consumers can click through to the respective websites for booking. It would look something like the following image, although the InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta listing would show a room rate and not just display "owner site."
Both Google and the metasearch companies undoubtedly would cache hotel pricing data to various degrees.
But, one key difference is that Google places a higher priority on storing hotel pricing data locally while metasearch players are seemingly more likely to poll hotel CRS systems for pricing and availability changes.
"We're able to deliver lightning-fast results by storing a copy of the price for each covered hotel result locally on our servers," says Jim Prosser, a Google spokesman. "We maintain our high level of data accuracy by frequently updating the prices, and many of our partners push notifications when any of their pricing changes."
But, while Kayak or other metasearch players would be more likely to do a live search for hotel pricing and availability, industry experts say, Google tends to want all of the pricing and availability data on its servers -- which could sometimes to lead to out-of-date pricing and sold-out rooms.
"With Google it's all about speed and returning information quickly," says one source familiar with Google's requirements.
Or, as Rick Seaney, the cofounder and CEO of flight-metasearch engine FareCompare puts it, "Google's model has always been, get 'em on, get 'em off."
And, if Google decided to poll hotels for pricing and availability, then "Google Instant would turn into Google forever," Seaney says.
It is believed that Google requires participating hotels to provide Google Maps with the lowest publicly available rates, for stays of one to seven nights, double occupancy, with arrival days up to 90 days ahead.
But, Kayak, for instance, enables consumers to make more complex hotel queries than double occupancy. For example, you can search Kayak for two rooms at once and for up to eight people.
"If you have more than two people, then you aren't getting as accurate a result [with Google Maps hotels] as you might with Kayak looking for four people staying in the room," says RockCheetah's Robert Cole, a hospitality consultant.
"Google will certainly get clicks for hotels instead of customers going to intermediaries," Cole says, adding, however, that conversion rates may be "a totally different dynamic."
All agree that speed versus accuracy on hotel rates and availability is a tradeoff.
As Seaney points out, being a general search engine, where speed is paramount, is a whole different ballgame than dabbling in verticals like travel, where consumer frustration with unbookable hotel rooms and rates could tarnish your brand.
Google's proposed acquisition of ITA Software for airfare search and the Google Maps hotel metasearch beta has sparked alarm among some in the travel industry given Google's status as the dominant search engine and the traffic it commands.
But, might travel metasearch companies such as Kayak have some advantages because of their greater familiarity with the travel industry and seeming ability to deliver results -- perhaps not as "lightning-fast" as Google's -- but perhaps more accurately?
Seaney, for one, says he's not yet convinced that Google can win in travel, and of course, that remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, in other developments, Trust International, a global CRS provider which is working with Google to get hotel pricing into Google Maps and related Google Places pages, says it signed Rotana, a hotel management company in the Middle East and Africa, to a contract for the Google program.
Rotana is the first hotel management company in the Middle East and Africa that Trust has signed up for the Google program.
"The contract, signed today [March 9], at this year's ITB conference in Berlin, will allow Rotana to display their real-time rates and availability in relevant search listings on Google Maps and on related Google Places pages as a pay-per-click advertising module connected with the Rotana booking engine, which is power by Trust International," Trust states.