Editor's note: We're pleased to welcome Steve Sullivan, Manager of Web Development at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) as our guest blogger today. IHG uses Google Maps API Premier across its global network of branded sites to offer their customers an intuitive and interactive way to more quickly and easily find the IHG hotel that best meets their needs. Steve will be joining the Google Maps team for a webinar tomorrow at 11:00 am ET to discuss how InterContinental Hotels Group is using Google Maps to drive online customer engagement.

InterContinental Hotels Group is the world’s largest hotel company, with more than four thousand hotels across seven brands. As you can imagine, helping our customers find our hotels is key to our success, and we recognize the need to have top of the line mapping and searching technology. We introduced Google Maps to our brand websites in 2008 with the Google Maps API Premier, and we are continuing to evolve to utilize the full power of the platform.

Google helps us reach our customers in a variety of ways. We've found that a growing number of people prefer to interact with maps versus filling in a form and retrieving search results. However, the Google Maps API also helps us reach people who still prefer to search by using a text field. In late 2008 we launched an open search field on intercontinental.com that simplifies searching – instead of requiring country, state, and, city fields to be populated, we rely on Google to parse the field for us and return the appropriate coordinates. We are continuing to roll out even more improved open search to our additional branded sites.

As we enter into 2009, our agenda is to continue adding more functionality and information to the maps, such as allowing users to enter dates of their stay directly into the Google Maps information window. I'm very excited about the "search by map" technique, which essentially searches for hotels in the background as a user drags the map around. For example, if a person is searching for hotels in Atlanta and then drags to Chattanooga, we will already have those markers available for quick display.

The only problem with Google Maps? Keeping up! Every time that I check the Google Maps website, three or four new features are waiting for me. I’m particularly looking forward to integrating with Street View, which will be a very powerful tool for customers to evaluate the area around the hotel. With Google, the sky is the limit on what will be next! They have proven that they can innovate faster than any of their competitors, and I’m happy to have them in my corner.

– Steve Sullivan, Manager, Web Development, InterContinental Hotels Group

Posted by Colleen Horan, Google Maps API Premier Team