Your Next Trip, Courtesy of Google Search

Print Version
Share to a friend

Google wants to make it easy for travelers to decide where and when to go on vacation, and to see at a

glance what a trip is likely to cost, right from their mobile phones.

 

The company on Wednesday announced a search feature, Destinations on Google, that touches on

almost every aspect of a vacation, from research to flight selection, hotel booking and itinerary planning.

Destinations does not offer off-the-beaten-path guides or exclusive information that can’t be found

elsewhere on the web. Rather, it’s meant to make researching and planning a trip on a mobile phone

(typically a clumsy experience) more intuitive and productive for the occasional traveler by delivering

good-quality basic information.

 

This is the first time Google has introduced a travel tool on mobile (where people are increasingly

spending their time) before desktop; it’s available through your mobile browser or the Google app

on iOS and Android. Everything on Destinations begins with a single search screen; there’s no drilling

down through multiple websites and hopping among them, no entering your desired number of nights or

travel companions again and again. Here’s how it works.

 

Where to Go

 

On your smartphone, open your browser or the Google app and search for, say, “Europe vacation.” A

grid of multiple destination tiles will appear — Paris, London, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, Prague,

Amsterdam, to name a few — each with an appealing photo. These are the most popular European

destinations according to Google. Each photo has a bit of information beneath it, including the cheapest

week to go within the next six months (based on your origin and the destination), the cost of the

cheapest flight for that week, as well as the average price of a hotel (three-star or the next available

class).

 

It’s Europe at-a-glance, an easy-to-scroll, elegant reminder of some of what’s out there — emphasis on

“some of.” If you’re looking for less frequented and up-and-coming places such as Sarajevo in Bosnia and

Herzegovina, you have to make your initial search more specific: Instead of searching for “Europe

vacation,” search instead for “southern Europe vacation” and you’ll find it. Or, if you have a particular

destination in mind, like Split in Croatia, you can type “Split, Croatia vacation” into the search box and it

will turn up. In other words, you can search at the city, state (“California destinations”), country or

continent level. If you just search for Greece, for instance, you’ll see a carousel of “destinations” (Athens,

Santorini, Rhodes) that you can scroll through and click into for more details.

 

A word of caution: When you begin a search, Google uses your current location to determine the origin

city (and therefore the price) for flights. That’s a problem since I might be in Miami when I want to

research a trip from New York to Latin America. Google did not confirm whether in the future users will

be able to set their starting point, but it seems a logical next step.

 

Narrow the Options

 

You can filter those “Europe vacation” search results by travel dates, price and interests such as

architecture, beach, camping, culture, golf, hiking, nature, sailing, skiing. Just tap the appropriate

heading on the top of the screen and adjust the filters. Your search results will update accordingly. When

I filtered Europe for skiing, for instance, my screen was instantly repopulated with images of mountains

and vacation options for Bansko, Bulgaria; Chamonix, France; Zermatt, Switzerland; St. Anton am

Arlberg, Austria; Sierra Nevada Ski Station, Spain; and more.

 

Delve Deeper

 

See that lovely photo of Venice? Tap it, or the photo of any city on your screen that captures your

imagination, to learn more. Background information about each place is culled from Wikipedia as well

as from a New York content team that also writes the descriptions for Google Maps. On each destination

page, on a tab that says Explore, you can check out its top sights (in Amsterdam, for example, the

Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, Vondelpark), see popular travel months for tourists, find out about

the climate and watch related videos (more users are turning to mobile video for travel research, Google

said).

 

The “top sights” are just that: the obvious must-see attractions, not lesser-known gems or nascent

activities. And sorry, foodies, you won’t find a guide to restaurants and bars, either. Think of

Destinations as your basic Crayola crayon box; it is not aimed at those who want Magic Mint.

 

Build an Itinerary

 

On that same destination page that you reached by tapping a photo is a Plan a Trip tab that allows you to

select how many people are traveling, the number of stops you’re willing to make when you fly, the

number of nights you plan to stay and your desired hotel class (up to five stars). Once you add those

details you can use an interactive price bar graph. With a swipe right or left it slides through the months,

showing you the changing price of your trip over time.

 

One of the niftiest features of Destinations is Popular Itineraries: trips through a country in a logical

order with details about how far apart each site or activity is so you can maximize your time. But unlike

most itineraries you find in travel publications, Popular Itineraries are not created by editors or writers.

They are based on anonymous and aggregated data across a large pool of travelers who have opted into

sharing their mobile location data with Google. It’s the same technology Google uses to create its Popular

Times graphs; i.e. people using mobile phones in a restaurant help Google determine the busiest and

slowest times. As a result, you can see, for example, that on a Thursday night Bar Boulud in New York is

most popular between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. and that getting a seat at 10 p.m. would be easier.

 

To find Popular Itineraries, search for a country and add “vacation” or “travel.” Google will then turn up

a guide; to get it, click on the blue button under the basic information for the country. When I searched

for “France vacation,” there were several Popular Itineraries in the travel guide, including seven days in

Nice, Avignon, Montpellier, Toulouse and Bordeaux; four days in Paris, Burgundy and Lyon; and five

days in Paris, Strasbourg and Colmar.

 

A different feature, Suggested Itineraries, is not currently based on aggregate phone data; it offers

sample itineraries for cities, not entire countries, by the content team at Google.

 

Book Your Trip

 

While some Destinations features call to mind online travel agencies like Expedia andTravelocity,

Destinations is not meant to emphasize shopping for flights and hotels. Its primary purpose, a Google

product manager told me, is to help users figure out where to go. The technology of Google Flights, my

go-to comparison tool, and hotel search are baked into Destinations. Google Flights shows options

across multiple airlines, but to book you go to an airline’s own website. Choosing a hotel through

Destinations takes you to a Google search page with information about the hotel, its location, reviews

and the option to book through a partner site such as Hotels.com,Booking.com or Venere.com.

 

Bottom Line

 

Google says Destinations is designed for the leisure traveler who takes a trip or two a year and is

concerned about making the right choices for that big getaway. He or she is interested in popular places

and wants to see the major sites.

 

Destinations is not for those looking for obscure art galleries, or for foodies seeking the next great

restaurant or food truck. Experienced travelers who have a short list of where they want to go, who fly

frequently, who use particular airlines because they have elite status and who seek off-the-beaten path

itineraries won’t be surprised by the cities or points of interest they see on Destinations.

 

That said, chances are they’ll like the planning tools. The price bar graph is a quick way to narrow down

when to go. And a flexible dates feature allows you to say that you want to go in June, for instance, and

then see your travel options for the entire month, rather than for specific dates. Details about rainfall

and temperature mean you don’t have to run a separate search to see if you were planning to visit during

hurricane season. And Points of Interest and Suggested Itineraries could be handy for business travelers

parachuting into a place for a night or two but hoping to get to a must-see spot between meetings.

 

Is Destinations regularly unearthing hidden treasures? No. Does Destinations make it easier to spark

ideas and to start plotting? Absolutely. You can type “Caribbean vacation” in the search box and

instantly begin finding the island that’s right for you. You can do that on some vacation-idea apps, but

most are haphazard and, more important, divorced from useful information about flights and hotels.

Destinations on Google integrates the puzzle pieces.

 

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/13/travel/trip-planner-google-destinations.html?ref=technology