Facebook quietly launched a City Guides feature in the Facebook app that enables users to book some hotels and restaurants, and message or tap to call other hotels, restaurants, and tours and attractions.
Most of the venues that appear in Facebook’s destination-oriented guides had messaging and calling features when you viewed them but for some, such as the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas and the Eliot Hotel in Boston, users could tap a Book Now button in the Facebook app and make reservations directly with the hotel.
There were also Book Now buttons for some restaurants, such as ROKA Charlotte Street restaurant in London, where dining reservations could be made through the Priceline Group’s OpenTable.
“We’re testing a redesigned surface on city Pages that showcases information about your city,” a Facebook spokesperson said March 9. “This content already exists on Facebook, and during this test we’ll be centralizing it in a way that is more personalized and relevant to you. So, this new feature can help people get a better sense of their city, or a city they’re visiting through their friends’ eyes.”
Consumers could already book an Uber, buy an Icelandair ticket, or converse with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration on the Facebook Messenger app, but now the Facebook app itself has added City Guides.
Facebook’s latest move into the travel ecosystem could be seen as a big challenge to Google, which launched its Google Trips app in September featuring “Things to do” and the ability to create “Day plans” in a given locale.
But unlike Facebook, Google Trips doesn’t feature any booking features — yet. Facebook has not overnight become an online travel agency but offers a Book Now button for hotels that already had them on their Facebook pages. The City Guides feature thus points users to the hotel website, where the booking actually takes place.
Facebook’s app update on March 2 in the United States added City Guides toward the bottom of a list of the app’s features. It shows you various cities around the world, such as Melbourne, Australia, and you can tap and view places in Melbourne, such as the Australian Open Tennis 2017 or the Hosier Lane Street art gallery, that your Facebook friends have visited.
The Australian Open gets a 4.5 star user rating, and there are features to tap and call or message the venue; plan your visit with maps and directions; view photos; read reviews, and read about upcoming events.
For those seeking everyday experiences, warts and all, in a destination (If I hear the term “authentic experiences” again, I’ll die) then the Facebook City Guides tool has a Places The Locals Go feature.
In Miami, Florida, the restaurant Fonda La Chismosa Miami topped the lists, followed by another eatery, La Carreta.
The locals may go to the Cuban restaurant, La Carreta, but Facebook City Guides informs you that “people talk about horrible service, arroz con pollo (chicken with rice) and cafe cuban.”
City Guides also touts more orthodox tourist destinations, called Popular Attractions, such as Angel de la Indepencia in Mexico City or Parque Ibirapuera Conservacao in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
City Guides is Facebook’s way of getting into travel planning and, importantly, booking — or booking referrals. It is more social than Google Trips, and similar in some ways to how TripAdvisor integrated your Facebook friends’ visits into its own destinations and hotel pages.
With Facebook now more overtly joining the trip-planning and booking game — instead of Facebook users merely querying their Facebook friends or doing Facebook searches — it’s clear the space will evolve quickly as Facebook joins, TripAdvisor, Google, Foursquare and so many others in the space.
Like Facebook, Google Trips enables users to access directions to an attraction, tap to call the venue, and read reviews. Google, unlike Facebook, mines users’ Gmail to access past, current and future flight reservations, for example.
Google may fire the next shot if rumors are true that it will add booking features — meaning links to third-party booking engines — most likely for tours and attractions, into Google Trips.
Facebook’s foray into dining reservations and some hotel bookings will likely serve to speed Google’s plans.