If you’ve been waiting for the proverbial next shoe to drop when it comes to Google Travel putting all the pieces together, it just did.
Google on Tuesday launched a Google Travel desktop website that puts flights, hotels and vacation packages, as well as a variety of trip-planning tools and recommendations, all on one page. The features are also available in Google Search and Google Maps, the latter making Google Maps more of a superapp for travel, dining, events, spa appointments, and more.
In a blog post written by Richard Holden, Google vice president product management, travel, Google said last year it made it easier to navigate between Google Flights, Google Hotels and Google Trips “easier on smartphones,” and the company claims the desktop treatment is similar to what it did on mobile. But the mobile rendition of these features didn’t assemble the various travel components in such a one-stop-shop manner.
For those waiting for Google to start doing transactions, beyond the limited number it does for hotel advertisers today, Google did not take that step. Instead, Google Travel continues with its metasearch model, referring users to advertisers for bookings, but now it has tied it all together in one place.
The new treatment for Google Travel’s offerings come with new trip-planning features, including the ability to view their upcoming flights and hotel stays — if they are Gmail users — and to edit their itineraries, and manually add new reservations.
Google Travel also now enables users to start planning in Google Maps or Google search, and “to pick up where they left off when planning.”
Recommendations on “day plans, popular nearby restaurants and events happening during travel dates,” will also be be put in front of users’ eyes, Google said.
So Google is obviously using the vast amount of user data it has at its disposal to make better and more personalized recommendations. That’s a feature that most smaller companies can’t hope to duplicate.
The Google hotel search feature, includes options to peruse its recently launched vacation rental feature with properties in Los Angeles from Vrbo, Holiday Lettings, RedAwning, Agoda, and Hotels.com, for example.
A vacation package feature in Google Hotels shows a stay at the Sofitel Hotel Magnificent Mile in Chicago on May 26-31 for two people paired with a Spirit Airlines flight from LaGuardia Airport for $1,532, and advises that the components booked separately would cost $1,644, for instance.
Importantly, the packages, however, would have to be booked from two companies: Priceline for the hotel, and Spirit Airlines for the flights.
Google Travel on mobile gets similar treatment, showing tabs for Trips, Explore, Flights, Hotels and Packages.
What Does It Mean?
For years Google collected and built its travel pieces, including acquiring ITA Software for flights, Zagat for restaurants, and building hotel metasearch, and trip recommendation features. But until Google made it easier last year to navigate among the various services, travelers would have to search and find each segment separately.
But today, with launch of flights, hotels, packages and trip-planning features on desktop, as well as making them all available on mobile, Google has taken a large step toward becoming an all-encompassing travel planning and booking destination.
Yes, Google is letting its travel advertising partners, from airlines to hotels and online travel agencies, keep doing most of the booking, but it is a challenge to them, as well.
Why go to Expedia.com to make your travel plans, for example, when travelers can do it all in the Google search engine, along with everything else they use Google for all day long.
It’s no wonder then that Mark Okerstrom, the CEO of Expedia Group, which spent $1.53 billion on sales and marketing in the first quarter alone, said last year that Google is Expedia’s chief competitor. The lion’s share of that sales and marketing spend undoubtedly went into Google’s coffers.
Skift pointed to Google’s inexorable rise in our Travel Megatrends 2018: Google’s Product-Led Vision Is Bearing Fruit, in which we wrote: “Little can stop Google Flights and Hotels from continuing to take market share because of Google’s speedy response time, enhanced focus on user experience, and position as a dominant search engine — except the looming threat of regulation.”
Google Travel is, of course, very much a work in progress. But that’s the Google way — test, learn, iterate, solve big consumer problems, expand it around the world, and then monetize the heck out of it.
There are many missing pieces in Google Travel, including car rentals, ridesharing, cruises, multimodal transportation options, dynamic packaging, and — a preponderance of travel booking to supplement facilitating bookings for advertisers through Google’s metasearch services.
But one day at a time.
Meanwhile, you can count May 14, 2019 as another big step toward Google’s dominance in travel.