According to Bloomberg, Expedia Group Inc., TripAdvisor Inc. and more than 30 vacation rental providers asked the European Union to investigate how Google shows vacation rentals, claiming it unfairly gets a prominent placing above other search results.
As Google continues to roll out its Google Vacation Rentals OneBox search, organic search results for consumers’ queries are being pushed further down search engine results pages (SERPs), and direct traffic to both OTAs and to vacation rental companies is dropping off significantly in affected markets, causing a notable decline in direct bookings.
In an open letter, these OTAs and vacation rental companies assert that Google is “favoring its own service in general search results pages” by displaying ads “in a visually-rich OneBox” showing pictures, a map preview, ratings and prices. The display “secures Google’s service more user attention and clicks than any competing service may acquire.”
Must Read for Vacation Rental Management Companies: Read the Entire Letter to the EU Commissioner
According to the letter, “The competition concerns arise from the fact that Google features its new product in a visually-rich OneBox at the top of its general search results pages – a ranking and display that Google reserves only for its own specialized search service. The prominent feature includes pictures, a map preview, ratings and prices – a user experience like any other vacation rentals search service. As the Commission established in its Google Search (Shopping) decision, such favourable ranking and display secures Google’s service more user attention and clicks than any competing service may acquire, even if these are more relevant for the user’s search query.
“Google Vacation Rentals is a direct competitor to our specialized services. There may be some form of cooperation but ultimately both Google Vacation Rentals and our platforms compete on all fronts for the intermediation between vacation homes and holiday seekers. We all compete for the attention of the same users. We also all compete – sometimes on different levels of this market – for either original content
providers such as property/channel managers or providers of vacation rentals such as home owners or real estate companies. But none of us Google rivals is capable of resorting to a favouring within the results pages of the standard Internet search engine to bundle these two user groups of consumers and properties. We see strong indications of a competitive strategy for Google to reduce us and our industry to mere content providers for the “one-stop-shop” of Google’s new product…”
The letter further outlines Google’s anti-competitive behavior in its Google Vacation Rentals platform, stating, “Google’s conduct will have a massive detrimental effect on the industry. Due to Google’s general search service being the first port of call for most Internet users, almost all specialized search service providers are dependent on being findable in Google Search. By pushing, at no costs, its own service above those of its rivals in general search results pages, Google can convey its service an economic advantage that none of us can compete with or outbalance through other investments or innovations. Google is increasingly providing the relevant vacation rental intermediation service directly within its results pages. This will ultimately render any click through to a competing intermediation service unnecessary. These services will be reduced to mere content providers for Google’s rival service. This disables them from gathering the data required to enhance their search and matching algorithms, to identify user needs and to improve the user experience.”