Last year, Google made a significant change to its Google Shopping destination by making it free for e-commerce retailers to sell on Google, when before the Shopping tab had been dominated by paid product listings. It also made it free for partners to participate in Google Flights. Today, the company announced it’s now doing the same thing for hotel booking links on the Google.com/travel vertical.
Beginning this week, Google will make it free for hotels and travel companies around the world to appear in hotel booking links on Google.com/travel — a change that will give users a more comprehensive look into hotel room availability as they research and plan their trips.
The company is positioning this change as a way it can better help meet consumers’ needs, ahead of the expected return of travel as the pandemic comes to an end.
“When travel does resume in earnest, it’s crucial that people can find the information they’re looking for and easily connect with travel companies online,” writes Richard Holden, VP of Product Management for Google’s Travel efforts, in today’s announcement.
In reality, the adoption of free listings is part of a larger effort underway at Google to shift many of its destinations that were previously powered by paid ads to become free listings. On the e-commerce front, this shift was meant to strategically counteract the growing threat from Amazon in e-commerce, which has steadily grown its ad business over the years. Amazon is also now often the first place users go to search for products, bypassing Google entirely — a worrying threat to Google’s core ad business.
Shortly after the launch of free e-commerce listings, Google said it saw increases in clicks to its Shopping tab (70% lift as of last June) and an increase of impressions on the Shopping tab (130% lift). The idea is that, over time, Google will be able to pull in more brands to its e-commerce platform, increasing competition. As the market becomes more crowded, some brands that were previously benefitting from the free listings will turn to ads in order to increase their visibility.
Travel, including flights and hotels, are other areas where Google is positioned to grow in terms of post-COVID web traffic. For the past several years, however, hotel booking links were offered on Google through paid Hotel Ads, which would display the real-time pricing and availability for specific travel dates.
With these listings now becoming free, consumers will have an expanded set of options. And that will make Google a more reliable place to search for bookings. It could help Google compete with an array of travel booking apps and services, which are also expected to boom in the post-COVID months to come. And though the pandemic is not over yet, there are already signals that some are treating it as such in the U.S., with states lifting mask mandates and Spring Breakers planning their annual trips to Florida beaches, for example. The full effect of the pandemic’s end hasn’t yet to be seen in travel, but consumer appetite is surely there after a year of locking down and staying at home.
Google today argues that the addition of the free listings will generate increased booking traffic and user engagement on its platform. And this will, in turn, expand the reach of advertisers’ Hotel Ads campaigns.
Meanwhile, the shift to free listing will help bring potential new advertisers into the pipeline, too, as hotel and travel companies will be able to list for free by establishing a Hotel Center account. Over time, Google says the onboarding process will be made even easier and it will reduce the complexity of its tools to provide the hotel listings. It notes that its existing hotel partners who already participate in the Hotel Prices API and Hotel Ads don’t have to take any action to appear in free booking links.