The world of the OTA is one of ever-changing rules and players. Initially dominated by the hotel industry, the OTA market soon adapted to make room for the new players: Airbnb and VRBO. Both industries have learned to work together in some fashion, but Google is poised to change the game once more.
There are two levels to this game-changing event. First, Google is now adding Vacation Rentals to their search results. Assuming the traveler’s search results include the matching criteria, vacation rentals will appear alongside hotels, complete with professional photography and video to complement each listing.
Second, Google has transformed its search engine to act as a complete reservation solution for travelers and renters alike.
Users provide travel dates, and the Google engine will provide travelers with complete and comprehensive results, including air, hotels, vacation rentals, and car rentals – all at the best rates available. Mix and match these various travel elements as you like, and Google will stitch together the best itinerary suggestions available. Google has provided travel-related search functionality in the past, but never like this.
Much like the word “Xerox” became synonymous with “copy machine,” “Google” has become synonymous with “search engine.” With these recent moves, it isn’t a stretch to assume Google has designs to transform their brand once again by adding “travel engine” to its list of synonyms.
When OTAs and Hotels Ruled The World
OTAs have been comfortable in the position of leader in online search and reservation platforms. It has primarily dictated the price of advertising and promoting hotel stays and vacation rentals to the online shopper. With most OTA service fees as high as 18 per cent, the marketing game has been expensive for vacation providers. Google is changing the game again.
Google currently charges no fees to list vacation rental sites on their site and asks for no commission from reservations made via their engine. This strategy will indeed impact the fees currently charged by OTAs across the industry and the globe.
These impacts are global, with Google’s established brand and reach providing instant access to the international market. Whereas vacation rentals struggled to compete with hotels while under the OTA model, Google will not only list vacation rentals alongside hotels and other short-stay options, but it also does so on a global scale.
The Little Engine that Could
Google feels one of the most significant benefits of these travel enhancements is the ability to link a vacation rental website directly to Google Travel. Users can visit your site directly without the costs associated with listing the rental across multiple channels.
Those wishing to list their vacation rental with Google must comply with their quality standards. Once in, Google provides the framework for vacation rental listings to compete with their hotel competitors.
These efforts encourage more direct bookings to resorts and vacation rentals. Direct bookings have slowly increased their market share against the ever-dominant OTAs in the post-COVID travel landscape. These recent enhancements combined with access across all devices, handheld or desktop, Google Travel will allow direct bookings to grow that share further.
Google Travel – The Future is Bright
Although these game-changing enhancements have the potential to inevitably change the face of vacation rentals, if not the entirety of online travel itself, it in no way signals the end of the OTA. Google Travel has relationships and affiliations with many of the more well-known OTA brands, so the move here is not to replace them or gain a competitive edge but instead to level the field of play.
By adding vacation rentals to the pool of travel options and enhancing their travel search experience, Google has the consumer foremost in their mind and strategies. Along with offering the best prices available, the user experience is paramount to being a key player in the OTA game. Google’s search enhancements and quality listings for each accommodation offered will surely provide that level of customer experience.
The savings passed down to the rental properties will, if used wisely, also result in enhancements to the property and the end-user experience. The trickledown effect of increased bookings and increased savings to the rental property should benefit all from the owner to the traveler.
Only time will tell how Google Travel and these changes to the game will affect the players and the outcome, but to be sure, the game is afoot!
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