Before the coronavirus, the travel industry was worth USD 1.2 trillion. It was estimated that 82 percent of all travel bookings in 2019 were made online through a website or a mobile app. Furthermore, the worldwide market volume for online hotel bookings was expected to exceed USD 810 billion by 2022, reflecting the behavior of travelers to scour the internet for the cheapest flights, the best hotels and the most popular tourist sites in their preferred destinations (source: Statistica, Skift). The search engine Google was making significant inroads, becoming integrated into travelers’ digital searches and their booking activities (flight data, hotel data, integration with Uber, etc.) In fact, consumers turned to Google first to search for travel-related restrictions and/or products, especially with the establishment of Google Travel. So what is behind Google’s growth in the travel industry? The unprecedented events of 2020 and the release of new products for the hospitality sector undoubtedly helped Google become a reference for anyone planning a trip. Google invested in its own travel tools to make travelers’ endto- end experiences easier. As a result, Google is today one of the biggest players in the online travel market, with Google Travel worth a staggering USD 100 billion. Moreover, in 2019, the travel industry spent USD 16 billion advertising on Google — the budget of booking.com alone was USD 1.19 billion.
How Google disrupted the online travel market
Google acquired more and more of the search engine results page and dominated the top half of the page, minimizing the chances of travelers scrolling down for further options. Moreover, Google launched several innovations:
Touring Bird is a microsite that acts like a travel agent, providing travelers with the option to book any of the advertised services directly with Google. Touring Bird displays curated lists of tours, attractions and activities at the top tourist destinations around the world that are catered to suit the needs of the customer.
Google Discover is the enhanced version of Google Feed. Used by 800 million people monthly, this tool pushes content based on the interests of the user so that they can get personalized updates on what matters to them.
Google Hotel Ads was a paid service until March 9, 2021. The company has since made this service free for hotels, until further notice. It allows hotels to have preferred placements on Google’s booking tools to increase their visibility. It displays the hotel availability and rates on Google Search, Maps and the Assistant. This service benefited Google in acquiring increased inventory from hotels, as hotels are sharing the risk of cancelations with the search engine. Thus, the service has proven Google’s commitment to the hotel sector and a significant shift from hotel websites to the Google platform may be witnessed in the near future.
Google Knowledge Graph was developed to monetize Google’s qualified traffic better than the previous paid search results. This highly informative box is gradually being extended further to include all the information and functionality that a traveler might need to make a purchase without ever having to leave Google to visit the operator’s website.
Google My Business (GMB) is a free facility that allows hoteliers to manage how their property appears in Google’s Local Pack, Local Ads, Google Maps and organic rankings in general. As more customers use mobile devices, GMB listings have become important as they can capitalize on customer’s geographical location to provide relevant results through local search.
Google Assistant to Hotel Rooms is a personal concierge for hotel amenities, linking the hotel’s system to handle any guest request. Moreover, the smart displays can connect to a guest’s smartphone via Bluetooth to play music. Any activity information is deleted when guests check out to protect user privacy. Depending on the hotel, the smart display can handle checkouts so guests can just leave directly from their room. Hotels can have the voice assistant ask guests to fill out a survey about their stay.
The more hotel partners Google secures and traffic it attracts compared to its competitors, the more it will dominate the market. Thus, there will be a massive shift in channels that are no longer the online travel agents (OTAs) or various other structures we know today. When this will happen and how this shift will influence OTAs remains to be seen.