Skift Take

Touring Bird gained no traction in the real world outside Area 120, and for all the inroads metasearch has made in hotels, flights, and cars, it has really struggled in emerging categories where the products aren't cookie-cutter such as in vacation rentals, and tours and activities. After all, when experiences are unique or varied, comparing them is hard.

Google is shutting down its second stand-alone travel product, Touring Bird, in the past couple of months.

Starting Tuesday, visitors to the tours and activities price comparison site will see a banner announcing that Touring Bird will be shutting down November 17. An unannounced number of Touring Bird staff — Google wouldn’t reveal the size of the contingent — will be transitioning from Google’s Area 120 incubator into the Google Travel team.

Google shuttered the Google Trips app in August, but with a difference. When Google announced the closure of Google Trips, which served as a destination guide and enabled travelers to find things to do and keep track of their itineraries, Google noted that the features of Google Trips would be integrated into Google Maps and Google Search.

However, there is no such imminent integration of Touring Bird’s features, which enabled users to price compare Anne Frank tours in Amsterdam from vendors such as Viator, GetYourGu9de, and Amusement, for example.

“Today we are announcing that Touring Bird is successfully moving on from the experimental environment of Area 120 into Google, where the team will continue building compelling experiences for travelers and connecting them to tour and activity providers in destinations around the world,” wrote Touring Bird General Manager Lax Poojary in a blog post. “That way, the next time you’re booking a vacation, planning what to do during your trip is one less thing to worry about.”

However, unlike with the closure of the Google Trips app, there is no similar feature integration to announce.

Google killed the Google Trips app because it found that users didn’t want a separate app to access Google’s travel features, official said.

But with the shuttering of Touring Bird, a spokesperson said it’s too early to state what specific functionality would be tied into Google’s travel features, although it sees an opportunity to improve the research and booking process for tours and activities.

What Happened?

There are likely numerous factors that led to the demise of Touring Bird, which had attracted much attention among travel startups and investors because it grew out of Google’s incubator, and tours and activities is a hot sector.

But Touring Bird, which had expanded since early 2018 to cover tours and activities, and vendors, in some 200 cities never got much traction. One founder of a tours and activities started labeled Touring Bird “irrelevant.” For example, SimilarWeb, which measures desktop and mobile traffic to websites, said it lacks sufficient data to analyze Touring Bird.

As with Google Trips, Google may have found out that users didn’t want yet another website to access travel features — especially now that Google now offers a one-stop shop for flights, hotels, vacation rentals, packages, and destination research.

But perhaps an overriding factor might be that metasearch — comparing prices and product features — among varying foodie tours, Vatican visits, and cooking classes is really difficult.

Beyond flights, hotels, and cars, which to some extent lend themselves to apples to apples comparisons, metasearch has struggled in other categories, including vacation rentals, holiday packages, and now tours and activities.

Competition from Airbnb Experiences, which doesn’t compare tours among multiple vendors but offers its own, may also have been a factor.

With the closure of Touring Bird, it isn’t clear whether or when Google will focus on tours and activities. With all the potential advertising dollars in play with hotels, flights and vacation rentals, tours and activities certainly are a vital component of the travel experience, but for Google they aren’t an overriding priority.

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Tags: experiences, google, metasearch, tours and activities

Photo credit: The USS Constitution is shown in Boston Harbor. Google is phasing out Touring Bird, which enabled users to compare tour options. Associated Press