The global health crisis changed has changed the vacation rental industry. Following the “Airbnb cancellation wave” property managers and owners were forced to get creative to make up for that sudden loss of income. The global giant Google was also quick to adapt. In 2020, the Google Travel feature was expanded to include Google Vacation Rentals. This new distribution channel for short-term rental property owners is slightly different from the well-known listing sites and Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) like Airbnb, Vrbo, Booking.com and TripAdvisor. And for managers with at least 20 properties, it could be a great tool for scaling up and securing bookings.
Getting acquainted with Google Vacation Rentals
Technically speaking, Google Vacation Rentals isn’t an OTA but a meta-search engine—a search engine within a search engine—that exists as a travel-focused subsidiary of the Google umbrella. Soon-to-be travellers can access it three ways:
- By searching for “vacation rentals in [country/region]” in the main Google search bar. Note: If the user scrolls beyond paid advertisements, the next thing they’ll see is a preview of the Google Vacation Rentals clickable map. It’s similar to the Airbnb map feature but with different accommodation options and search filters.
- By applying the “vacation rentals” filter when searching under the regular hotels feature on Google Travel.
- By directly visiting the Google Vacation Rentals tab featured in the Google Travel application.
Whichever route the user takes to access Google Vacation Rentals, they’ll see your listing on Google and transfer to the source page to finalize the booking. Interestingly, this can be either an OTA or a direct bookings website. Google can act as a springboard for directing potential customers to a specific landing page, side-stepping thousands of other listings in the process. It’s easy to see how this uncharted territory in vacation rental marketing has huge amounts of potential.
Side note: The difference with Google My Business
Google My Business and Google Vacation Rentals are two completely different features. My Business is for search visibility on Google Maps for location-specific businesses (think of a flower shop, cafe, gas station, etc.) Since you can’t visit vacation rentals without a reservation, it makes sense that Google wouldn’t want those properties to show up on Google Maps. So the best you can hope for is for a My Business entry to link to your company’s office. That said, in your My Business listing, you can include the link to your direct booking site. It’s more visibility that could end up driving bookings, and it could be advantageous for hosts and managers who operate in rural areas where their My Business will stand out.
Is Google Vacation Rentals fair game for any listing?
Getting listed via Google’s new feature isn’t exactly like advertising through an OTA. The simplest way is to list your properties on all of the major OTAs that Google has partnered up with. These include TripAdvisor and Vrbo. Additionally, you can boost your listings up the ranks and secure direct bookings by going through one of Google’s approved connectivity partners, including channel managers like Rentals United or NetPax.
Tools you’ll need to list on Google
To get onto Google Vacation Rentals and streamline management of listings across channels you’ll need a few tech tools:
- Property Management Platform (PMP): What you’ll need is for your PMP to integrate with a third-party channel manager (more on that below). Ideally, your PMP should also have connectivity with your direct bookings site. That’s because in some cases, Google Vacation Rentals can also be set up to redirect to your website. Note that some PMPs like Hostfully also come with free pre-built direct booking sites.
- Rentals United or NetPax: Both are Google Vacation Rental connectivity partners and integrate into most PMPs. What’s great is that these channel managers will also greatly expand your marketing reach. You’ll also be able to use them to take advantage of multi-channel distribution. In short, this is a strategy where you list on the big listing sites as well as the niche or micro ones that PMPs don’t typically cover.
Is listing through Google the new way to do it?
Google Vacation Rentals shows a great deal of promise for rental property owners. As a newer addition to established listing platforms, it may seem like uncharted waters—but with such a range of benefits, it’s definitely worth investing. So, what does it have to offer?
A gateway to direct bookings at no extra cost
Direct bookings are a dream for established rental property managers. No commissions, complete control of policies and excellent brand engagement with your customer. Unlike standard OTAs, Google Vacation Rentals facilitates direct bookings by orienting customers toward your company page, meaning you’ll easily bypass the pitfalls of third party bookings. Plus, it’s completely free, with no charges for direct transactions.
By sending traffic straight to your website you’ll be creating a new booking stream that’s commission-free. On top of that, when guests book direct, you’ll get the chance to collect their contact information. You can then stay in touch with them throughout the year to convert them into repeat guests. In short, unlocking Google Vacation Rentals is an additional tactic you can use to build listing site independence.
Of course, sending traffic to your vacation rental site is just a first step. You’ll want your PMP to have a direct bookings widget that can seamlessly integrate into your website. It’ll save you from having to answer guest inquiries and responding to leads promptly. That way, you can ensure that any potential guests coming over from Google Vacation Rentals complete their transaction with you.
Wider distribution and higher visibility
Listing rentals as widely as possible is one of the cornerstones of rental property management. And when it comes to Google, one thing’s for sure: their reach and search capability is unparalleled. In fact, Google more or less has a monopoly on search engine usage, attracting an estimated 90% of internet users in the United States.
For that reason, Google has a great reputation among travellers too. Amid the chaos of the pandemic, the vacation rentals feature is continuing to instil confidence in its users, integrating a COVID-19 information widget into search results. When a particular region or country is searched via the platform, localized and weekly updated COVID-19 travel information is also displayed. This makes it a trusted reference point for potential guests.
And since major OTAs occupy the top Google ad spots, having your stays appear on Google’s clickable map of vacation rentals could bring instantaneous visibility. If you’re able to push your properties up through the listings, you’ll be getting noticed by thousands of potential guests every day.
Control over your properties and policies
Google’s new feature has introduced a wide variety of filters that mean you can list precisely what you’ve got to offer—and users can find what they’re looking for. In addition, there are very few restrictions around cancellation policy: you can opt to provide a type (moderate, strict, etc.), a free-text explanation, or not to include it on the advert at all. Put simply, what you list is up to you.
So, what’s the catch?
At the moment, there doesn’t appear to be much of a downside for listing on Google Vacation Rentals. It may be that Google is trying to set a foothold in the vacation rental industry. Perhaps later down the road, they’ll charge fees like Airbnb, Vrbo and Booking.com.
For Hostfully’s PMP users, listing via Google Vacation Rentals is a smooth process that adds another distribution channel to your repertoire. It also guarantees hassle-free direct bookings if you’re integrating with a connectivity partner, like Rentals United or NetPax. However, if you’re doing it this way, the option to send a traveller directly to your booking site may be subject to some conditions. If your company isn’t eligible, customers will instead book through a landing page that displays your company information but is hosted by the connectivity partner.
In sum: Google Vacation Rentals is anyone’s game
A good marketing strategy leverages all the reputable distribution channels available. With Google Vacation Rentals now in play as a platform distinct from traditional OTAs, there’s huge potential for property managers. And as the vacation rentals industry continues to evolve, having a reliable PMP system to streamline channels and integrations has never been more important.