The New 800 lb Travel Gorilla May Not Be Such a Bad Thing for Hotels (or Travelers)
Earlier today, Google announced it was acquiring Frommer’s travel brand. While it may have appeared to be a random move, it comes about a year after they purchased Zagat – and in between those two monster purchases, they launched pretty sophisticated airline and hotel booking systems. With this final purchase, Google acquired a vast amount of editorially-focused, location-specific content for travelers. Should hotels be concerned? Quite the contrary – but OTAs (online travel agencies) should be terrified.
Here’s the beauty of Google’s master plan: they aren’t setting up a revenue model that competes directly with a travel agent or wholesaler model (which also comes with the overhead of actually servicing each booking). They aren’t asking hotel companies to discount their rates (a la the “flash sale craze of 2011”). And they aren’t trying to compete with the massive websites that rely heavily on user-generated content. Instead, they’re creating a seamless resource that allows users to research a trip with credible, third-party information and then book directly using simple price comparison tools that cut out the middle-man (and the mark-up). Hotels can decrease dependency on expensive distribution channels, and small boutique properties can compete with big industry chains. And travelers can get access not only to hotel reviews, but also detailed information that Frommer’s has long been amassing on everything from public transit to festival and event schedules.
Frommer’s was a savvy move by Google. The online content behemoth of the travel industry continues to be TripAdvisor and, secondarily, Yelp. Hotels, restaurants and attractions can correlate direct financial impacts based on where they fall in rankings generated by these aggregators of consumer reviews. As TripAdvisor gained traction, most other third-party travel booking sites added a consumer review element as well. It wasn’t a bad formula; sites like Expedia and Orbitz get constant, frequent, SEO rich content. This has long flummoxed Google; while Google allows consumer reviews (in Google Places), it appears they wisely figured out that they can’t compete with the scale of established sites…and they may have had an inkling that consumers are getting tired of being asked to create content, over and over again.
Google has long had location-based content; most businesses have suffered the pain and bureaucracy of dealing with the highly-necessary-but-unsupported ‘Google Places Listing’ tool, and more recently, Google+ Business listings. Those listings flow into Google Maps, Google+, Google Mobile (IE, every time you whip out hour iphone to ask for directions, and it shared with you hours of operation, images and reviews). With the new empire that Google is amassing, your smart phone will conceivably be able to tie editorial content from Frommer’s into not only location, but also into flight searches and other logistical queries.
Today’s announcement does leave a few questions. How will Google integrate social content into results and rankings? Rumors are already flying that the online staff at Frommer’s was being released, which begs the question about where new content will come from. How will they compete with a model like Oyster, which was built on a similar platform of curated editorial content?