Skift Take

Google tends to favor digital products over human-facing services but it's possible that a new "travel assistant app" could blend the two. Then again, they've tried this before.

Is it telling that Google will be rolling out a beta of “a new travel assistant app” this week and that it will be certain members of its Local Guides program who will be among the first to get a “sneak peak?”

Google has been emailing members of its Local Guides program in recent days informing them that Google is “introducing a new travel assistant app for Android and iPhone, and we’ll be giving select Level 2+ Local Guides a sneak peak.”

Members of Google Local Guides, which debuted in early 2015, contribute to Google Maps by writing reviews of points of interests, posting photos, adding destinations or correcting erroneous information.

Local Guides members at various status levels earn rewards ranging from access to Google-hosted events and hangouts at Level 1 to becoming a “Google insider” with access to products before they’re released and the ability to apply to attend a Google Local Guides Summit at Level 5. In some ways, the Local Guides program is similar to Yelp’s Elite Squads, which are groups of reviewers who shed light on the local scene and get access to special events and benefits.

Local Guides members had until April 25 to reach Level 2, which requires earning five to 49 points for writing reviews or adding points of interest to Google Maps, and thereby potentially get early access to the app beta. They also had to fill out a survey to be in the running for a first look.

Could the new Google app be a way to tap into the expertise of top Local Guides to sign them up as local ambassadors or tour guides to show visitors the nooks and crannies of destinations that they might not otherwise discover? Or perhaps guides could help travelers plan itineraries before they arrive or while they are already in-destination?

Google obviously has the reach to build a platform that could facilitate such a peer-to-peer tours business.

After all, another company with a massive platform — Airbnb — is looking to supplement accommodations by testing local experiences.¬†Google may not want to cede “local” to Airbnb, Yelp or anyone else. In addition to Airbnb, TripAdvisor/Viator, Expedia and Kayak are giving increased attention to tours and activities and Google may want to test the waters.

For its part Google isn’t revealing much detail yet about its new app.

“We love to travel and are hard at work dreaming up new ways to make the travel experience hassle-free,” a Google spokesperson says. “While we do that, sit tight and keep on using our amazing tools like Google Flights, Hotel Search and Destinations on Google to plan your next adventure.”

To be sure, Google’s new app isn’t necessarily a local tours initiative. The app could go in a variety of directions.

Among them, one Google competitor says Google has long talked of launching an app that integrates flights, hotels and destinations, combining those features with a TripIt-style itinerary-management service.

With the beta supposedly arriving this week, we’ll probably get more of a definitive idea soon.

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Tags: airbnb, apps, expedia, google, kayak, tours and activities

Photo credit: Google is giving Local Guides (shown above) early access to Google's new travel assistance app, the details of which haven't yet been revealed. Google

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