By Matt Tutt
A few months ago, Google announced big changes to its Google Maps Platform. These changes included a new pay-as-you-go pricing structure that requires websites and applications that exceed a certain number of “calls” within the Google Maps API to use paid plans.
Historically, the Maps API has been a free-to-use platform, enabling many businesses around the world to embed a Google Map within their website. This feature would often contain custom information, such as a marker pin that highlighted a business’s exact location.
Here’s the official Google Maps Platform email:
Naturally, the price hike hasn’t proved popular. While some businesses have given in and paid the fees that Google charges, others have scrambled to find a suitable alternative.
Hotels have obviously been greatly affected by Google’s policy change. Hotels commonly use Google Maps to show potential guests nearby attractions, restaurants, and points of interest that are worth visiting during their visit.
In addition, hotels use the Google Maps API to show their own locations without having all other nearby hotels also marked within the map.
The result of inaction during the Google Maps update
If you didn’t pay attention to any of the warning notifications that Google Maps sent out, you might have noticed that your custom maps stopped working a couple of weeks ago and was replaced by this Google Maps watermark:
Suffice to say, this creates a pretty bad user experience for visitors that land on your website. To prevent frustrating your website visitors (and potentially losing their booking), there are only really two options available.
You can either pay Google the upgrade fee, which is really going to be dependent on your usage (i.e. your website traffic levels). Or you can find a cheaper alternative.
The graphic above shows a rise in people around the world searching on the term ‘Google Maps API billing’. Note that there’s a significant spike around June following the warning that Google sent out around May.
Free alternatives to Google Maps
Fortunately, there are a few free alternatives to the Google Maps API that provide almost the same functionality as Google’s version. Below, we’ve listed three alternatives. Your choice from these options will likely depend on the level of bandwidth your hotel website uses, and the type of functionality that you’re looking for.
Outside of Google Maps, OpenStreetMap (OSM) has to be one of the biggest community-driven alternatives. Inspired by the success of Wikipedia, this non-profit open source project offers editable maps of the world. This service is completely free to use, as long as you credit OSM when used.
OpenStreetMap has an Editing API (which is mainly intended for the use of map editor software) and a Web Map Framework. Using frameworks (also referred to as components, modules, or software development kits), a developer can use OpenStreetMap on their websites or within software, such as an app.
If you’re a web developer looking to switch from Google Maps to OSM, this resource describes how to make the switch and the benefits of doing so, along with plenty of useful developer advice.
TomTom is another reputable and well-known mapping solutions provider. Just like OSN, TomTom provides an API for web and software developers to delve deeper and start making use of their map data. But unlike Open Street Maps, TomTom is a pay-to-use service. That said, compared to Google Maps API, TomTom still represents a much more affordable option.
Developers can take advantage of a limited number of free daily transactions (2,500), and some nice credit packages for smaller businesses are also available. So if you’re looking to switch from Google Maps, and don’t necessarily just want a completely free provider like OSM, TomTom may just fit the bill.
#3 Yandex Maps API
Yandex is the most popular search engine in Russia. It also has its own maps API offering, which works out much cheaper than Google.
From JS API plugins to basic embed-only maps, Yandex offers both simple and more advanced options depending on your needs. While it might not have been on your radar before, Russia’s search engine giant warrants consideration as a flexible and affordable alternative to Google.
The impact on the Google Maps API change for Hotels
We’ve noticed that a number of fairly large hotels have not taken any action since Google announced this update. This might be because some hotels are yet to decide on their next step. Others might still be trying to deploy and roll out a new maps platform.
Whatever the reason is, Google’s forced payment model likely have caused a multitude of hotels to consider their options. While it’d be easier to accept Google’s paid subscription model, plenty of hotels (especially smaller and independent properties) will now be looking for alternatives.
Despite Google’s monopoly of the industry, web agencies should remain open to the idea of switching to another platform. Armed with the information above, we recommend that you consider one of the various free alternatives to the Google Maps platform.