An update to hotel pricing display in Google Maps has prompted concerns small aggregators are being priced out of the search market on the dominant engine.
The update, which saw a limited rollout last June but is now available on all UK map searches, displays results of individual hotels plus a list of aggregator prices in a drop-down sponsors’ links box.
However, not every hotel aggregator is being allowed to take part, with Google saying it is “currently looking to work with partners with extensive inventory and coverage across multiple markets”.
Google has indicated it will open the service up to a wider range of advertisers but says this is not imminent, sparking fears that only larger players will benefit, particularly as map searches become more dominant in the hotel sector.
Nilan Peiris, chief marketing and technology officer for Holiday Extras, said: “We’ve been in discussion with Google about the trial and hope that we’ll be able to participate in the UK element at some point as the project develops.
“We believe in innovation and we welcome anything that means the customer gets a better deal, easily and quickly. We’re investing heavily ourselves in innovative web developments that mean that travellers can enjoy a hassle-free booking experience.”
Steve Endacott, chief executive of On Holiday Group, said the biggest threat to smaller intermediaries was the ‘check-in’ field allowing users to adapt their search dates and prices accordingly via meta-tags with the larger advertisers.
He pointed out this has been taken a stage further in the aggregated hotels review pages, where the ‘check-in’ field is headed ‘Book now’ – a clear call to action giving the appearance of Google moving into metasearch.
He said: “Google tests things out on its subsections, maps being the main one, and then rolls them out into its main engine.
“This is concerning because it looks like you only have four advertisers able to display their goods, and history shows that the bigger the brand the more likely you are to have access to those slots.”
Endacott said that while he sees this as a threat, there is no point in complaining about Google because it provides great customer service.
“The only thing you can do is look at how to provide a better customer service that does not include Google,” he said.
“People seem to think I’m attacking Google, I’m not, I’m just saying do not become dependent on them if you can and you also have to work out what your strategy is for customer retention that does not involve Google.”
Last year Endacott launched a social media-based marketing strategy designed to get around Google by paying fans the money for leads it would normally spend with Google.
The scheme, originally called Google Bypass, was renamed Share and Earn after objections from Google.