Google's entry into the hotel business is shaping up -- literally.
Google is testing Google Hotel Finder, a tool that enables you to edit shapes within an area of a city to depict where you might want to stay, and delivers Google Places reviews and advertisements from online travel agencies to book the properties.
Google Hotel Finder, launched as an experiment in the U.S. only, has some googlish features which appear to be unique.
You access the tool here and if you click on or enter "Las Vegas," you'll see a listing of 60 hotels and an image to the left to depict the spotlighted area like this:
Then, if you click on "edit shape" you can manipulate the spotlighted area into the following shape, for instance, and expand the hotel roster to 80 hotels, if you wish:
You can, of course, narrow the shape to focus on a few streets etc.
When you scroll or mouse through the spotlighted area and click on one of the blue dots, it identifies the hotel. For example, you can view a pop-up about the Super 8 Las Vegas with a star rating, user rating, hotel description, reviews by Google users from Google Places, hotel photos and a "book" button.
Clicking on the "book" button brings you Google hotel price ads from Agoda, Priceline, Expedia, Booking.com, hotels.com, Travelocity and the hotel website.
Interestingly, all of the online travel agencies show the price as $39 per night while Travelocity shows the rate as $189 per night as the base rate. (Must be Travelocity gremlins at work.)
Give Google some credit, too, on the transparency front.
Google shows each OTAs' total price for the room, including taxes and fees, at first glance, although the total price is in a smaller typeface than the base rates in bold. Google shows no price from the hotel website, which presumably is not an advertiser.
The integation of the ads is convenient for the user, if not a bit distracting -- the ads are overlayed onto the hotel photos.
Another interesting feature not seen elsewhere is a "Compared to typical" column in the hotel listings.
For each property, Google provides a percentage showing how the hotel price on your desired dates compares with the hotel's "typical price over the last year."
So you can see, for example, that the five-star Wynn Las Vegas' $159 rate for a stay on Aug. 4 is 34% cheaper than its typical rate over the last year, and the three-star Wyndham Grand Desert's $181 rate for the same night is 70% higher than its norm.
There are lots of other tools, too, including a "shortlist" feature which enables you to compile a list of hotels under consideration.
HotelFinder is described in the Google Search blog as "an early experiment" which is "currently only available for locations in the U.S."