Finance

Google has jumped into the vacation rental market, taking on Airbnb

Does Google want to own the world or does it simply just want to make everyone’s life easier?

Maybe we should ask Airbnb and Vrbo because Google has just shown its cards in the vacation rental market, introducing price comparisons to its travel searches for short-term and vacation rentals.

And when we say “comparisons,” we mean comparisons! Travelers looking for a room can compare prices from several travel websites – Evolve, Whimsy, RedAwning, Vio, BringFido, et al – giving them the full landscape of options, not just what a single platform has. 

Somewhat like a general Google search, the properties that show up in the results are ones listed with online travel agencies or metasearch sites like Trivago or Tripadvisor that are interconnected with Google.

That is, all except two: Airbnb and Vrbo. As Derek Catron at PhocusWire explains, the reason Airbnb is MIA is that it hasn’t made its inventory available to Google in the past. And Vrbo? It’s been somewhat persona non grata since Expedia Group pulled its properties from Google in 2021.

“The vacation rental marketplace is witnessing a tectonic shift, with Google making aggressive strides,” Casey Jones, the founder and head of Marketing and Finance at CJ&CO, a revered digital marketing powerhouse, told ConsumerAffairs.

“Unlike Airbnb, which is a dedicated platform for property rentals, Google Vacation Rentals is a feature nestled within its overarching ecosystem. This positioning affords Google a unique vantage point. It harnesses the might of its search engine to direct traffic seamlessly to its vacation rental offerings, a luxury Airbnb does not inherently possess.”

Does it meet expectations?

“Our hope is that price comparison will help travelers save money, book with confidence, and make travel planning just a little bit easier,” Google said in announcing the feature. 

The company also added that from the user testing it’s done, the feedback has been positive, especially when it comes to the range of pricing options and a diversity of booking sites.

When ConsumerAffairs put the new option through its paces, here’s what we found.

It’s compact: Google offers a nice, tight, basic overview of what each property has to offer. However, what’s listed on Google appears to be what the property owner has decided it wants listed. In other words, one owner might list the square feet, another might list the number of bedrooms, and another might list how many people it sleeps. If a traveler wants to drill down for more information, they can either tick the boxes in the amenities drop-down that they want or go to the listing on the platform that it’s partnered with.

There are still fees: Just because there’s no Airbnb involved doesn’t mean there are no fees from the various vacation rental companies and owners. Cleaning fees, service fees, you name it. Again, this is not Google’s call and it’s something Airbnb still fights to try and make consumers feel better about the situation.

There’s no guarantee that the rental owners are perfect: Let’s be honest – lots of people have jumped into the vacation rental game because it can be lucrative. Some treat their investment like it was the Hilton while others treat it like it’s a hostel. Just like with Airbnb hosts, you never know what you’re going to get.

It’s not Airbnb: With Airbnb and Vrbo, you’ve got everything in one place. In the Google-driven version, you still have to go to the property’s site to make the reservation, just like with other Google travel searches (e.g., airlines). 

That can make things a bit frustrating since each site you go to is different because it’s run by someone other than Google or a single entity. Some sites are easy to navigate, some aren’t. Some have all the important stuff up front while others require you to dig a bit. 

And because of this, Jones warns the consumer experience between the two platforms diverges significantly. “Airbnb has cultivated a community-centric model where travelers can read host reviews, interact with hosts, and even partake in local experiences offered by hosts,” he said.

“Google, on the other hand, operates more like a conventional search engine for rentals, lacking the personal interaction and community feel yet offering a straightforward, potentially faster booking process.”