Free hotel booking links: how search is changing for hoteliers

Organic Search
-

The last couple of years have been incredibly difficult for hoteliers and online travel agents. With the pandemic placing restrictions on both overseas and domestic travel, everyone from small bed and breakfast owners to multi-national hoteliers suffered from a sharp decline in bookings.

Thankfully, we’re now emerging from the other side of the pandemic. This means borders have reopened, restrictions have eased, and families and business professionals alike are looking forward to travelling once again. Due to this, searches for holiday-related terms have now returned to pre-pandemic levels.

In a major change to the travel industry, Google recently announced that it is expanding free hotel booking links from hotels and online travel agencies to Google.com and Google Maps. These will supplement existing paid advertising.

From this change, it’s clear to see that Google is undoubtedly attempting to position itself as a brand that’s helping hotels that have been affected by the global pandemic, instead of aligning itself with the second-tier booking agencies that have previously dominated travel advertising. But, will this change really make a difference?

What is Google doing to help hoteliers?

On 16 March, Google announced that free hotel booking links will now show up on the search results page and Google Maps. Google claims that this will help travel partners extend their reach and will give consumers a more comprehensive set of options.

As part of this change, a revamped information box will display in the right-hand column in Google search. It will now firstly display ‘featured options’, which will still be paid ads. But, it will then display free booking links under the category ‘all options’.

Will the changes help hoteliers?

Originally launched on google.com/travel, free hotel booking links have helped individual hotels and large online travel agencies alike increase user engagement. For example, Google cites the fact that the booking engine myhotelshop used free booking links to drive 30% incremental bookings for their hotel clients during the summer of 2021.

However, the extent to which these new changes will actually help hoteliers remains to be seen. While it will now be easier for hoteliers to compete with second-tier booking websites, paid adverts will not be eliminated entirely. Plus, the paid ads for hotels will still be placed higher than the free links and customers are likely to still select higher-place booking links.

Due to this, although the playing field between hoteliers and large booking agencies has been levelled slightly, the impact is likely to be minimal. After all, these free links are hardly likely to wipe out Google’s biggest advertisers. Plus, Google is highly unlikely to give up its travel advertising business, which is among its largest advertising sectors.

What the experts think: the Travelodge view

To find out exactly how this will affect hoteliers in particular, we spoke to one of our valued clients, Travelodge. They told us that:

“The free booking links have been around for a while, it’s just that they’re rolling it out across more areas of Google. Previously, these links were only available on google.com/travel, but now they’re also visible on Maps and search.”

Speaking about how the change might affect their marketing plans, they told us that they “already have a pricing feed that’s linked to Google Business Profiles and shows the price by date.” They also told us that they “expect that the manual pricing is for hoteliers that don’t have the functionality to show dynamic pricing.”

Going forwards, they “anticipate cost-per-click (CPC) may rise on the paid links as Google won’t want to lose advertising revenue.”