There’s been a lot of talk about Google entering the vacation rental marketing space lately. To be clear, Google’s interest in vacation rentals isn’t new. Google has already been using test markets to intercept consumer searches on ‘hotel’ destinations and ‘rental’ destinations and has been displaying homes, villas and apartments at the top of the page for some time. These listing have been above paid OTA ads, and they offer consumers the opportunity and ability to book directly with the source.
What is new, however, is the evolution of voice search, and how this changes the way consumers find what they are looking for. Voice search is the driver behind Google’s upcoming acceleration into the vacation rental market, but the real power of Google is that it is geolocation driven, which means the entire user experience is tied into their mapping. Google’s ability to create a better refined and faster user experience based on geomapping and refined keywords is the game changer.
It is now becoming clear that Google’s intent is to act as a metasearch engine for the vacation rental category, which will create improved category awareness as well as significant savings for consumers. Google will also move into travel bundles by partnering with the direct sources of travel products including accommodation, tours, flights and other transport.
There has been a great deal of denial in our industry, by both the OTAs and property managers, about the impact of Google. Some of the OTAs believe they are ‘untouchable’ and that their apps create a stickiness with consumers that have the power to dilute the impact of Google. Many property managers are also currently unprepared for ‘life with Google’ and for the changes that are occurring. They often outsource their Google Accounts to marketing firms, so not developing centralized marketing with staff having core technical competency. And they are not keeping a firm eye on the ball.
Due to the lack of guest service fees, property managers with exclusive inventory of properties will be able to push their inventory forward into Google’s search results at better pricing. Furthermore, property managers will also be able to leverage smart home technology to adapt their properties with voice butler devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home to create a unique and individualized concierge experience for the guest. At the same time, this is allowing them to learn more about their guests’ wants and needs.
In order to survive and thrive on Google over the next few years, property managers need to ensure that they have staff that are dedicated to working with Google in a way that includes geomapping, keyword segmenting and especially Google Home advancements. Property managers will also need to make sure the fields in their database are filled out correctly and are pushed into their API. And fundamentally, that they build a robust e-commerce website with strong filters and conversion; especially at the property detail page.
As we move into the future, voice search through mobile will be more important than PC search and the changes that we will see will allow, assuming core technological competency, a more level playing field in the vacation rental space. As we heard from Javier Muerza, Google’s head of travel vertical search at this year’s VRMA Europe conference in Paris, already 27% of travelers want to search by using voice. Between voice search and home automation, Google has the tools to adapt to the future technology, provide personalized and seamless recommendations. The bottom line for property managers is that Google will not attempt to disintermediate the guest and that Google is perfectly happy to let the guest book and communicate with the direct source.
While the OTAs will scream about the unfairness of Google, the reality is both HomeAway and Airbnb have attempted to disintermediate the relationship between the guest and the property manager. Worse, some OTAs have not been subtle at all about their attempt to get property owners to list their properties directly on their sites and bypass professional property managers. There will be very few tears shed by property managers in regards to Google beating the OTAs at their own game.
Life with Google will favor companies that have core competencies in technology and specialized marketing. Guests who use mobile and voice need limited choices, but choices that are unique to them. This is where profiling and filters come into play to create a dynamic experience for the guest.
It’s important to note that voice allows you to “browse” anywhere and everywhere, from standing in line at the grocery store to the minutes before the game starts – not always at the time that guests are ready to book. This ability to capture the browsing patterns of guests is one of the many reasons why VTrips has worked on perfecting our inquiry follow-up system. The ability to turn people with the propensity to purchase into sales is key, and Google is providing the conditions for that to happen.