Four out of four online travel luminaries, in one sampling, agree: Voice search is the future of online travel.
Google is billing its new Google Assistant as a smarter, more useful competitor against Apple’s Siri voice-control feature. For now the service is available only on Google’s new Pixel line of phones and its Allo app, which combines Assistant functionality with SMS messaging tools (but not, strangely, Google’s Hangouts chat or video features).
When it comes to travel, however, Google Assistant is not yet the perfect voice-controlled travel assistant. It doesn’t offer booking capability, unlike travel agency chat hybrids like Lola, and isn’t enabled to inform you of your travel itinerary.
While the service does a solid job of showing flights from Google Flights and hotel options based on your queries, it can’t access your Gmail to provide detailed information on upcoming trips, unlike the new Google Trips app. The Google Assistant app will even direct you to online booking sites like Expedia or alternate accommodation sites like Airbnb if you ask it to, which is a nice touch.
Google, of course, still claims that it isn’t looking to compete against online booking stalwarts, and instead enable them to connect to potential travelers through advertising. The advertising spending Google takes in each year from its travel partners is likely more lucrative than selling travel itself.
Here’s a breakdown of what Google Assistant can, and can’t, currently do when it comes to consumer travel.
Expect Limited Information
Google Assistant can’t read your Gmail to provide detailed information about your trips. It can read your Google calendar, providing some information, and provide context-sensitive restaurant recommendations based on your location, which could come in handy on the road.
Google Flights handles air search
A variety of flight options by price and carrier are presented when searching for flights, and you can also request specific carriers for more specific results. You are then redirected through Google Flights for further searches and booking.
When searching for flights in Google Assistant the results show up as sponsored, as they do on Google Flights on the mobile Web and contrary to how Google Flights appears on desktop.
Hotels Handled on Mobile Web
Smartly, filters related to price and quality level follow up Google Assistant’s initial batch of hotels after you ask for a hotel booking.
It’s Easy to Contact Your Hotel
Once you select a hotel, Google provides a blurb on its amenities and options to call the hotel or check it out on Street View.
Google Assistant Can Search Other Sites for You
Interestingly, you can get around the limitations of the Google Assistant search by asking the service to instead search the Web. This way, you have one-click access to search on sites like Expedia, Airbnb, and others despite not being integrated into the service.