Google on Thursday joined sites like Kayak, Expedia and Hotels.com by introducing a tool for searching hotels.
Hotel Finder, which Google calls an experiment because it is in early stages and only available in the United States, lets people search hotels in various cities, save those that interest them and book reservations.
The new service, which competes with other travel search engines, comes as Google fights antitrust investigations that include a look at whether Google discriminates against existing Web sites in search results when it enters new businesses.
For instance, since Google introduced local business reviews, social networking and comparison shopping, sites that offer those services have said they worry about whether Google will favor its own products in search results. Google has long said that it does not practice favoritism for Web sites, but gives the user the best result, whether or not that is a Google service.
Hotel Finder links to other hotel search sites, like Expedia and Hotels.com, for booking reservations if they are Google advertisers, and these sites provide Google with price and availability information. Google also links to the hotel’s own Web site. The hotel price ads, as Google calls them, also show up on Google Maps and the main search engine. Advertisers only pay if a user clicks on a price listing.
Google also shows hotels that its own search engine surfaces, which do not yet include price or booking information.
On Hotel Finder, travelers can search hotels in new ways. Google highlights the most popular areas of cities, which is similar to Hipmunk’s service, and Google lets users draw a shape around the part of town they want to search. Google shows whether a price is a good deal or more than most hotels in the area, similar to Bing Travel. Users can also save hotels they like to a short list for easy access.
Hotel Finder shows photos, information and customer reviews and star ratings from Google Places. The photos are provided by a hotel marketing firm called VFM Leonardo.
Google is interested in building more travel search tools, which is why it spent $700 million to buy I.T.A. Software, a flight search company. It has not yet introduced flight search tools and the company said the hotel search did not use I.T.A.’s technology. Microsoft, which also offers flight and hotel search with Bing Travel, fought Google’s acquisition of I.T.A.