• Google adds vacation rentals

Google has added vacation rentals to its hotel search, shortly after adding direct booking to Google Hotels.
The news came as the EU Council approved new laws that will provide transparency for accommodation businesses in their dealings with OTAs.
Google said that it would trial vacation rentals, with a limited inventory. Pratip Banerji, product manager, travel, Google, said: “Starting with our mobile experience, you can see and book vacation rentals from a variety of partners including Expedia, HomeAway, Hotels.com, NextPax, RedAwning, Rentals United, TripAdvisor, VRBO and more.
“In the hotel search experience, you can surface vacation rental properties – be it a cabin in Lake Tahoe or a beach house in Sydney – by applying the vacation rentals filter or clicking on the vacation rentals tip.
“In the next month, we’ll bring the vacation rentals filter to the Google Hotels desktop experience as well. We hope this helps travellers make fast, effortless decisions – and with more choices on where to stay, your perfect vacation is just a few clicks away.”
Expedia Group reported a slowdown in expansion at HomeAway in its fourth-quarter results, but said it would continue to pursue the market. For the full year 2018 HomeAway saw revenue increasing 29% and adjusted Ebitda up 43%. Total online bookable listings increased 24% in 2018 to over 1.8 million, including over 1 million in instantly bookable listings.
Mark Okerstrom, president & CEO, said: “Given the attractive growth prospects, we plan to keep investing significantly in this business in 2019. In terms of reaccelerating HomeAway growth, urban is a big opportunity for them, international is largely an untapped opportunity. The goal is really to help customers pick between traditional accommodations and alternative accommodations, and really solve the kind of search and navigation process.”
Booking Holdings has also turned its attention to growing its alternative accommodations business, including a focus on quality. Glenn Fogel, president & CEO, told analysts on the company’s full-year results call: “We are not just focused on the total number of alternative accommodation listings, but are also concentrating on the quality and type of properties joining our platform, so we can provide the best choices for our customers and drive search conversion.
“We believe offering real choice with both alternative accommodations and traditional properties on one platform is the best customer proposition. We believe a telling data point underscoring the attractiveness of our model is approximately 40% of Booking.com’s active customers booked in alternative accommodation property at some point during the past 12 months.”
Last month saw Google add a number of features, including searching for deals, map-based listings and the ability to track pricing.
Richard Holden, VP, product management, travel, Google, said: “Set on your flight but need to whittle down your hotel options? Let’s imagine you’re going to Miami at the end of March, and there are over 300 hotel results for your search. To help you find the right hotel for your trip, apply our new Deals filter. This filter uses machine learning to highlight hotels where one or more of our partners offer rates that are significantly lower than the usual price for that hotel or similar hotels nearby. You can also view a hotel’s highlights – like a fancy pool, if it’s a luxury hotel, or if it’s popular with families – with expanded pages for photos and reviews curated with machine learning.
“Google Maps can also help when it comes to picking a hotel by showing you if a hotel is in a convenient location and near relevant landmarks. Search for hotels near a landmark or point of interest like ‘Hotels near Disney World’ in Google Maps on your laptop. You’ll see several hotel options and their rates, plus the walking and driving distances to your point of interest.”
At the EU Council, approval has been given to a number of laws which it said would modernise consumer protection. They include: the banning of hidden paid placements on online platforms; ensuring that online platforms and comparison websites inform customers of the main parameters determining product ranking; greater transparency on the authenticity of reviews on comparison sites; making sure that online platforms inform consumers if products are sold by professional traders and if the transaction is protected by consumer law and new rules guaranteeing that price promotions were not fake.
UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls said: “Transparency and trust in online platforms is of the utmost importance, for businesses and customers. There needs to be fairness to make sure that businesses are not unfairly disadvantaged and customers are not misled. The Council’s approval of the agreed measures will help provide this.
“One area in which we still need to see action is in parity clauses which undermine the idea of operating on a level playing field.”

HA Perspective [by Katherine Doggrell]: Vacation rentals, or alternative accommodations, are the current must-have – even the operators are bolting them on (although have admitted there’s no profit to be had by doing so) so it makes sense that Google would want to add on at least a taster of what’s out there. And for observers of the behemoth which is vacation rentals, it will be interesting to see what comes up in a Google search, giving some confirmation to how many listings are appearing on multiple sites and some inkling into the size of the beast.
Adding Google may help the likes of Expedia Group in its efforts to create scale in its vacation rentals business, although the search engine was only looking at it as a trial at this point. So fun for the traditional OTAs, but what of Airbnb?
When Google announced its latest search update, which was everything but the direct booking, we wondered what this meant for the OTAs and the search engine’s relationship with them. Now we wonder what this means for Airbnb, which has been marching off down the path of OTA itself with the purchase of HotelTonight. Airbnb is not involved in this trial but, should Google make that move into direct booking, which brand would prove stronger in the eyes of hosts and consumers, Google or Airbnb?

Additional comment [by Andrew Sangster]: Google’s interest in vacation rentals is not news. Press reports about Google tests in the market first appeared nearly two years ago. So it is surprising that Google has taken so long to come to market with an offering.
And it is equally surprising that Google seems so reliant on third-party intermediaries and is not able to offer connections to vacation rental properties directly. A key job of an aggregator is surely to aggregate.
Meanwhile, hotel industry lobbyists have again shown themselves keen to embroil themselves in a partisan spat with online retailers. As it has every time previously, this latest row seems unlikely to lead anywhere.

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