It seems that everything the Internet touches is Google's kingdom. Online travel booking services are no different. Travelers can now book certain hotels directly through Google Search, Google Maps, and Google+, thanks to a partnership initiative with travel technology company Sabre, which is used by more than 350,000 travel agents worldwide and currently running a beta in North America. According to Google, users have been able to make a reservation directly with participant hotels for a couple of years on mobile platforms, but the company recently expanded this feature to desktop results so customer can book their hotels and pay directly, all in efforts to improve conversions for Google's partners.
The 100,000-plus hotels that currently use Sabre to market themselves online now have the option to pay additional commissions to Google for credit card transactions that Google handles directly on their platforms. That means one less click for travelers and more direct exposure for small boutique hotels and larger chains alike, since one search from a consumer will result in the ability to book right on the search landing page.
"For the short term and foreseeable future, this is both useful and good for travelers and the industry alike," says Vijay Dandapani, chairman of the Hotel Association of New York City. "There's no better search engine out there than Google. They'll give you the best of what's out there, and point customers directly to what's available. If I was a hotelier, I would certainly pay commission to be a part of a better booking engine."
But the system doesn't rely solely on direct commissions. The 20,000 hotels that are currently hooked up to the system are able to choose whether they want to take part in the commission program directly or through Google Ads, increasing flexibility for a larger variety of hotels.
If you choose to book a hotel directly on Google Search, Maps, or Google+, Google will take care of the credit card transaction, and since they are directly partnered with the hotel you found through them, the hotel is able to complete — and if necessary change — your reservation. For anyone who has ever had to reschedule or change a reservation through third party booking services in the past, you know it's good news that you can correspond with the place you are staying directly.
That brings up what Dandapani calls "the $64,000 question." If Google can conduct booking partnerships with hotels, will they expand to becoming a third-party booking service themselves? "With a travel booking engine, it's very easy to take it a step further and say, 'book with us,'" he says. "In the long term, you don't know if that would be good for the industry, because that is where you can run into anti-trust practices and possible monopolies." If Google did expand this service into third-party territory, there wouldn't be much different between what they are offering and other sites such as Expedia, Orbitz, and Hotels.com. The only current competitor that offers something similar is TripAdvisor, which features instant booking, but does not handle payment processing.
Because Sabre is running a beta system for Americans looking to book, Google is currently in a prolonged experimental phase. That means that the booking features you are able to use now may not look the same as the end product in a few years, although no signs are currently pointing towards being a third-party booker nor becoming an online travel agency of sorts. But as the new system begins to materialize, Dandapani says that it is a useful tool for all involved.