Google now has a feature that lets a guest book a hotel without having to leave the search page. It includes prices from online travel agencies, rather than individual hotels, but prefers anonymity where the companies are concerned, unless they pay to have theirs right at the top. With an intent focus on limiting the brand presence during the booking process, customers find it hard to know which OTA they are actually booking with, but the process seems to be working.
In usual Google fashion, they are attempting to diversify their online services to accommodate as many industries as possible, which bears the question: are Google trying to become an OTA? The process of booking seems very similar to the modern, transparency-based style many OTAs take on, and there is not a direct booking offer in sight. Yet, under the surface this may not be the case. Right now, 4% of their earnings from advertising is provided by Expedia and Priceline.
It’s safe to say that Google is becoming a middleman, or ‘hybrid’ of sorts, that just so happens to favour OTAs over direct bookings. Granted, it is a simpler process for them to offer OTA prices rather than prices from all independent hotels in the area, but their allegiance is clear. However, will they follow in TripAdvisor’s footsteps and begin to favour direct bookings?
TripAdvisor only started to implement direct booking changes to their website once they had been in the industry for a while, and had first-hand experience of what is beneficial to the hotelier. If Google’s progression is in any way similar to TripAdvisor’s, they will eventually realise that it is a two-way credit to favour hoteliers and start encouraging direct hotel bookings through their online hotel feature. Hoteliers will not instantly click with an idea that favours OTAs, so given some time and some feedback, Google will realise that it is important to prioritise the direct booking.
What do you think? Is Google a friend or foe in the drive for direct bookings?