Skift Take

Google says it wants to provide users with the best answers and connect them to online travel agencies, airlines, and hotels. But Google could also provide greater booking functionality one day soon.

Google launched a messaging app, Allo, last week that combines messaging and also serves as an assistant to help find restaurants and find answers to various questions.

Speaking at the Skift Global Forum in New York City Wednesday, Oliver Heckmann, a Google vice president of engineering who heads the search engine’s travel product, sees a future for Google Travel in its assistant tool for eventually booking flights, giving recommendations and helping to concisely plan itineraries — all over voice.

As to whether Google plans to forge deeper into the booking space, Heckmann remained reserved. “Our master plan is to be the connector that builds awesome travel experiences, qualifies users and then sends them off to the right partners,” he said.

Heckmann seemed to downplay Google’s booking activities for hotels and airlines, including Lufthansa, Virgin America and Westjet. Travelers can book flights and hotels on Google without having to navigate to the airlines’ websites.

Heckmann, though, said he views Google as serving as the ultimate connector between travelers and the data they need, and that tools like voice-based assistance can help users quickly and precisely plan and book travel.

(Google does currently let users book flights on airlines including Lufthansa, Virgin America, and Westjet.)

Google Trips, an app that uses the library of Google data combined with a user’s Gmail inbox to plan and create custom itineraries, launched last week under the oversight of Heckmann and has already been downloaded more than 500,000 times in the Google Play store. It currently carries a 4.2 rating. It currently is informational and makes recommendations about attractions but has no booking functionality.

But the team at Google has larger ambitions. Assistance, or the ability to interact with one’s app in conversation has huge potential for Google — and it’s easy to see how that technology could be integrated into Google Trips.

As the team at Google continues to collect data on the currently deployed apps, it plans to unroll extra features. “It will take us a bit of time to measure real usage of actual trips,” says Heckmann.  “That’s the information we use to prioritize feature features.”


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Tags: google, google trips, sgf2016, skift global forum

Photo credit: Oliver Heckmann (right), who oversees Google's travel product, discusses Google's ambitions with Skift executive editor Dennis Schaal at the Skift Global Forum in New York City on September 28. Skift

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