Now that Google has entered the distribution market of vacation rentals, we are on the verge of an immense disruption to the current OTA landscape. The big question that many property managers are asking themselves is, “Where is Google heading and how can our business work in the best way possible with this new development?”
There is no question that Google’s recent entry into the vacation rental sector is shaking up the industry, and it will continue to do so. Many players in all areas are scrambling to determine how to better play in this new ecosystem. Understandably, there has been confusion both about what this means for the industry and how best to work with Google.
In this article, I hope to strip away some of the jargon, ease some of the confusion and help property managers see how they can best work with Google to grow their businesses and navigate the brave new (Google) world.
As we know, Google has partnered with many of the leading booking sites such as Expedia, HomeAway, Hotels.com, TripAdvisor and VRBO, and can now provide potential guests with a diverse menu of lodging options beyond hotels. This is undoubtedly a good thing and has been borne from consumer demand. At the VRMA International conference in Las Vegas, we were told by Shaun Aukland, Global Business Manager for Google Travel, there are now billions of searches with “vacation rental intent,” which shows that guests are increasingly looking for rentals and of course, Google also wants to be part of that.
Alongside partnering with OTAs, Google is also working with a handful of channel managers as preferred partners. This is great news for those using these channel managers as it provides an opportunity to be on Google Vacation Rentals and be in control of pricing and availability.
How hotels have benefited from Google
Google has traditionally sponsored hotel prices on Google Maps, and since 2010, has started to show hotel information with sponsored hotel prices as part of the Google Maps product. Google stated, “Our Hotel ad partners are happy with the volume of leads and bookings - in the first six months of 2018, the number of leads to partners grew 65% year over year.”
Just recently, Google also announced a new campaign type in Google Ads called Hotel Campaigns, which simplifies campaign management and optimization. The advantages of this include robust bidding controls that optimize for bidding dimensions that are unique to hotels. This includes information such as length of stay and audience bidding; and the smart bidding powered by machine learning to maximize bookings at a certain ROI goal.
With more than 6,800 hotels, Choice Hotels, for instance, had the need to drive bookings to their lower occupancy properties (from case study in Google Hotel Ads Center). With the integration with Google and using their specific bidding qualities to increase visibility, they succeeded in increasing their bookings by 75% and achieved a 93% incremental increase in revenue.
How can vacation rental property managers work best with Google?
Google’s business is based on geo-mapping and refined keyword search, thereby ensuring that the service is more effectively catering to a guest’s experience and the best possible search experience. A property manager’s key aim must be to ensure their properties are properly presented with prices and location accuracy, for example, in order for an integrative channel manager partner to upload their properties to Google.
Currently the Google vacation rental sales channel is offered by only a few companies that have been recommended by Google through sophisticated channel management and connectivity. Property owners or managers can upload / send the details of their properties to the channel manager who, in turn, sends the information to Google (and other booking platforms). Then, when guests are searching for accommodation, the property will appear on Google in the form of ads.
In the case of Rentals United, guests then have a choice to either book through the channel manager or directly with the property manager (as we allow your property branding). This service for property managers is only available through Google’s recommended list of channel managers.
What does the future hold?
Working with such channel managers that have been approved by Google will help PMs navigate this new Google world much more efficiently and effectively. Channel managers assist by uploading properties automatically to Google, and integrating with third-party providers (for dynamic pricing, housekeeping and guest communication, for example).
If we take the hotel distribution landscape as an example, we can safely assume that vacation rental companies should really adopt market-standard technology to distribute online. Revenue management tech is becoming more automated and smarter and booking agents and channels have become more holistically integrated into existing systems. With this, their power to reach clients will really be equivalent of that of hotels.
Property managers should really also understand how their customers shop for their properties. Knowing where guests are coming from and then specifically tapping into those channels is critical for online success.
What appears to be happening in hotel distribution, however, is that Google is starting to operate more like an OTA, with clients directly booking hotel rooms through their platform. Bear in mind, with the cost of advertising on the platform compounded with the additional commission that Google charges for each booking, the cumulative cost needs to be carefully assessed. Of course, we are not sure if Google will also extend this to vacation rentals in the future, but a good tip is to constantly check up on what Google is doing as they are constantly experimenting with new enterprise ideas.
How this brave new (Google) world will shake out, no one is sure yet. But there is one thing that is certain: All the players in the vacation rental industry will have to evolve as the ecosystem shakes down to find a new equilibrium.
James Burrows is the co-founder and CEO of Rentals United, an advanced and compact cloud-based technology solution for vacation rental managers & owners across the globe to market and operate their businesses. For more information visit, www.rentalsunited.com.