Alphabet: Google to offer free hotel booking links on travel sites

By Dave Sébastien

Google is offering hotels and travel sites the ability to list rooms on a price comparison page for free, which the tech giant says would encourage more competition among providers.

The move will give users more options than advertised prices, and comes as the company comes under increasing antitrust scrutiny over how it exercises its power over online commerce.

The price comparison page typically appears two steps after a user enters a query into Google’s main search bar, such as “Hotels in New York.” Google’s hotel search page – the site a user sees after clicking a button on a preview widget – already offers free listings under a few ads. From there, users are taken to another page which displays links to various travel sites and the prices offered. Ads have completely populated this price comparison page, but there will now be room for the free booking links. The change takes effect this week.

Richard Holden, the company’s vice president of travel, said in an interview that the change was unrelated to the antitrust review and declined to discuss Google’s antitrust issues further.

The Alphabet Inc. unit removed the ads on its flight finder and also opened its purchase tab to free ads last year. Hotels and travel agents can advertise through their Hotel Center account on Google, and the company said it plans to introduce tools in the coming months that will allow hotels to directly provide rates and availability. . Google said it would continue to run ads alongside non-paid options on the price comparison page.

Google pitched the new feature as a way for hotels to reach more customers and said it could increase booking traffic and user engagement. The feature comes as hotels and online travel agencies have slashed or cut marketing costs during the Covid-19 pandemic, although they have said that a gradual recovery in travel could be accompanied by a increased vaccination rates.

Travel sites have rated Google as one of the main engines for new business. But some of them say the company is a big competitive threat as well, with critics claiming that Google’s travel boxes and other types of specialty search products are increasingly keeping users within the company. Google ecosystem, encouraging them to use Google products rather than clicking on other sites to complete transactions. Business.

Expedia Group Inc. has removed Vrbo ads from Google’s vacation rental page, which is separate from hotels as it seeks to focus on driving direct traffic to its site, chief executive Peter Kern said on the month. latest. Tripadvisor Inc. said on Monday that its membership program avoids listing fees for hotel rooms, with the requirement that the hotel offer certain discounts and perks.

Google, like other tech giants, is under antitrust scrutiny in various countries. The US Department of Justice alleged in October 2020 that Google was illegally maintaining its monopoly in search through exclusionary contracts with distributors such as mobile phone makers, mobile phone operators and web browsers to do so. Google their default search engine. Google’s chief legal officer said in a statement the lawsuit was flawed and consumers use Google because they chose it, not because they are forced to or lack alternatives.

Write to Dave Sebastian at [email protected]

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

03-09-21 0014ET