As you might already know, Google is making a big push to open a new channel for hotels to reach customers. Their Hotel Finder venture, although still in an ‘experimental’ phase, integrates Google Maps, Google+ Local (formerly Google Places) and other software tools to offer users a better travel search experience. See it for yourself at www.google.com/hotelfinder.
I believe that Hotel Finder provides hotels with a viable alternative to sidestep the online travel agency (OTA) channels and their somewhat exorbitant commission rates. It’s a leveling of the playing field – easy to use and the platform links to a hotel’s brand.com site for direct bookings. Plus, the Hotel Finder feature will appear as the top link above organic searches.
This is why I sought out Craig Wingate, the CEO of Woodcrick Ventures (www.woodcrickventures.com), to talk about this exciting development. Woodcrick is a company that enables properties to push their rates and availability directly to Google, thereby navigating the arduous process of getting noticed on Hotel Finder and using Google’s Hotel Price Ads, an AdWords counterpart exclusive to Hotel Finder.
How was Woodcrick Ventures started?
Woodcrick Ventures was started many years ago as a strategic technology consulting organization specializing in identifying and commercializing breakthrough technology and intellectual property, primarily semantic technologies and their application in enterprise, consumer and public sectors. It was through these longstanding connections with technology that pioneers of Woodcrick became involved with the Austrian travel technology innovator Seekda.
The quality of Seekda’s travel technology innovations and the growth rate of hotel adoption in Europe enabled the contract for technology integration with Google. Upon execution of the Google-seekda contract and certification of the integration technology, Woodcrick recognized the necessary tools to enable hotels to take back control of their online bookings from the OTAs and compete on an equal footing through Google’s Hotel Finder and related products.
Explain seekda’s role in the process.
Seekda is the technology platform that sends hotel rates and inventory in real-time to Google for their promotion and use across Google’s Hotel Price Ads products. Within the Seekda system is also a dashboard for hoteliers to manage their bids, as well as reporting tools that show number of impressions, conversions and other important metrics for the hotels to manage their bids. The Seekda lodging platform is rich and full-featured, but a key differentiator is the direct connection to Google for hotels as well as their incumbent agencies and technology partners.
How will Woodcrick benefit hotels?
Woodcrick offers a low cost-per-click (CPC) model with no additional fees or commissions. The consumer can choose to book through Seekda’s booking engine without incurring any additional fees or book direct from the hotel’s website. Many hoteliers prefer to utilize Seekda’s white label booking engine since oftentimes their existing booking engine charges transaction fees.
What sort of exclusivity do you have with Google?
We do not have any form of exclusivity with Google. We do have exclusive representation of all Seekda travel products within the United States as well as worldwide reseller rights, and Seekda is one of the very few contracted, audited, certified technologies for connecting hotels directly with the Google travel initiatives and products including Google Hotel Finder.
Does Seekda replace a hotel’s existing booking engine software or work alongside it?
Unlike all other companies we are aware of, we do not require hotels to switch their current booking engine for the Seekda booking engine. The Seekda technology works alongside the hotel’s existing booking engine and channel management platform so it is not mandatory to use these popular Seekda platform components in order to participate in the Google Hotel Finder program.
How will Google Hotel Finder benefit hotels?
Hotel Finder will enable customers to book direct from the hotels via Google products rather than through high cost intermediaries. The hotels will ‘own’ their own customers rather than allowing them to be directed to intermediaries. Benefits will continue to increase as customers discover the full scope and utility of Google travel products and Google’s penetration increases. The other key benefits we foresee for hotels are:
- Promotion of their own rates and inventory on Google where 75%+ of users start their hotel or resort search and where about a third of the OTA bookings originate
- Distribution cost savings — CPC model instead of transactional, commission or OTA models
- Hotel Finder is set up with interesting functionality including new search filters and capabilities for hotels to show up in a search by location and proximity to where the user wants to stay
Aside from the high commission rates appropriated by the OTAs, why else would a hotel want reservations coming directly to them?
By simply having customers land on a hotel’s website, it gives them the chance to experience the property’s branding and guest services prior to arrival. Plus, reservations through the hotels’ websites allow hoteliers to better capture customer data. When given the choice, data indicates that consumers want to book directly with the hotel. Third-party bookings cannot always satisfy individual needs or offer the same degree of assurance that specific requests will be met. Lastly, once the consumer is engaged directly with the hotel it is easier for the hotelier to provide the customer with opportunities for custom packages and additional services.
Hotel Finder is currently defined as an ‘experiment’. You are right in pointing out that YouTube was once defined with the same terminology, but Google has also had several notable disappointments including Google Buzz and Google Wave. What evidence can you cite to give hoteliers confidence in the longevity of Hotel Finder?
Google’s travel industry vision has been articulated publicly many times by senior Google staff. It has been well documented by Google that travel is a large and growing segment of what Google users are searching for, and their mission is to create a better user experience for planning and booking travel with comprehensive data and tools to enable better decisions and easier transactions. Google’s stated travel vision also includes utilizing their significant market presence to create a destination where users can research travels plans, read user reviews and see user uploaded videos and photos – a one-stop shop for travel information. Google has proven its commitment to this travel vision by its significant investment evidenced by its purchase of ITA Software, Zagat Guide, and the continuing deployment of significant internal resources in developing and refining its Hotel Price Ads products as well as regular upgrades to the Hotel Finder tool.
Even though Hotel Finder is still in beta, what results have you seen? Any success stories?
It is still early to tell, but there have been several large studies, including a detailed report from Best Western. Overall, their study released numbers indicating that from January 2012 to May 2012 they saw an uptick of 70% in clicks and 60% in revenue. We can say with complete assurance that public excitement and Hotel Finder usage has increased dramatically over the last several months since Google has enhanced the user interface, added functionality, and more fully integrated and cross-promoted Hotel Price Ads with other Google products.
Describe your Gold Partner program.
Our strategy is to work with key industry insiders to present this ground-breaking Google participation opportunity to hoteliers. Through the Hotel Finder connection provided by Woodcrick/Seekda on a pure cost per click basis, the Gold Partner program offers an exciting chance for such insiders to provide their client hotels with the direct connectivity and increased margin that they desire through a revenue-sharing model.
Anything else you want to touch on?
There is much misinformation about Google’s entrance into the travel space. Clearly, Google is prevented from operating as an OTA, and they have repeatedly assured the industry that their goals are different. We believe Google will focus on distribution and integrating technology (Search, Social, Maps, Flights and the Hotel Finder product) to enable a richer user experience from the early planning stages through to the trip itself, as well as post-travel sharing.
Pragmatically, hoteliers can benefit immensely by having their price and availability directly posted to Google and thereby enabling them to bypass the middlemen (OTAs) and connect directly with the customers at the point of transaction. Despite all this, we are not anti-OTA. We believe that hotels ought to be able to compete on equal footing via the new interrelated Google travel products, and we are utilizing the Seekda-Google contract and technology connection to facilitate this goal. Hotel Finder has the potential to revolutionize the way hoteliers use online media, and we are honored to be a part of these game-changing initiatives.
(Article published in eHotelier on August 9, 2012)