The new Google Hotel Finder comparison shopping tool, launched late last month as an "experiment," alters the way you might research and book your next hotel stay. But it's also flawed and has some big holes.
This much-anticipated hotel metasearch tool (google.com/hotelfinder), which competes with Kayak, Bing Travel and countless other sites, boasts some features you generally don't see on major travel sites, such as:
You merely enter the city or ZIP code where you want to stay, Google supplies dates by default, and without having to click "search" or navigate to another page, Google Hotel Finder immediately displays a list of hotels in popular tourist areas of the city.
The tool then instantly provides a small Google map of the city with an outlined shape containing hotels in those tourist areas. When you click on the map or select "Edit shape," a larger map opens and you can manipulate the shape to expand or contract the section of the city you are interested in. The hotel list increases or decreases accordingly.
When you click on a hotel name in the hotel list, a window opens within the list and displays a description, a link to the hotel website, photos, snippets of Google user reviews, a link to user reviews from other review sites and a "Book" button.
With the window still open, you can continue to peruse the rest of the hotel list. And you can access the same hotel information by clicking on a blue dot, which represents the hotel, in the map.
The list of hotels contains a "Compared to typical" column detailing how the hotel's rate compares with its average rate over the past year.
When you click the "Book" button, you view ads from online travel agencies such as Travelocity, Getaroom, Expedia, Priceline, Booking.com and Hotels.com detailing the base rate and total price, and you can navigate via deep links to the online travel agency sites to complete the booking.
Google.com and Google Maps display the same ads.
To its credit -- and unlike many hotel metasearch sites -- Google also provides a link to the hotel website home page underneath the online travel agency ads. However, because most of the hotels aren't advertisers, their rates aren't listed. In fact, of the 14 hotels displayed in a recent search for hotels in Cleveland, none of the hotel websites displayed a rate.
On the positive side, I found that most of the online travel agencies' hotel rates listed in their ads were identical to pricing on their sites, and the rooms, for the most part, appeared to be available for booking.
But at this admittedly very early stage, Google Hotel Finder, which covers only hotels in the USA, has serious shortcomings.
For example, you can't search by a hotel's name, and many properties are missing.
The shape feature, although fun and potentially useful as a new way to refine your search, is difficult to manipulate on a Google map, especially when you need to zoom in to narrow your neighborhood of interest.
The "Compared to typical" feature is similar to, and less visually appealing than, Bing Travel's Rate Indicator (which displays Deal, Avg. Rate, Not A Deal). While somewhat of a new twist, it may not be particularly useful. If you want to stay at a Manhattan hotel Aug. 15, will it sway your decision to know that the Michelangelo Hotel at $299 is 28% less than it averaged over the last year?
In addition, the "look and feel" of Google Hotel Finder is uninspiring and drab.
Here's a closer look:
Overview. New hotel metasearch tool for properties in the USA offering Google map with interactive "shape" feature and booking through online travel agencies and some hotel websites.
Pros. Speedy to navigate. Lots of hotel information. Map-based search by manipulating shapes to refine neighborhoods of interest. Accurate hotel rates. Provides booking links to online travel agencies and hotel websites. "Short list" feature to save hotels under consideration. Filters to search via rate, star rating and user rating.
Cons. No hotel name search. Hotels only in the USA and not comprehensive. Hotel list lacks transparency as it shows base rate, not total price. Rates from hotel websites often missing. Shape feature difficult to manipulate, "Compared to typical" rate feature not particularly useful. Hotel photos are promotional and rarely show people. Emphasis on relatively small number of property reviews from Google users. Unattractive look and feel.
Takeaway. Off to a great start, but needs to expand comprehensiveness, introduce international hotels, add functionality, enhance its look. For now, Kayak is more comprehensive and provides more booking options and features.
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