Skift Take

A consumer habit of turning to Google first to look up pandemic-related travel restrictions may help establish Google in their minds as the brand to turn to first when planning a trip in normal times. Or at least that's Google's hope.

Google is adding a couple of tools to clue in travelers to pandemic-related information about flights, hotels, and destinations when researching and booking travel in the U.S. the UK, and some other selected markets within the next week.

“Users can now see the percentage of open hotels with availability and flights,” wrote Richard Holden, Google vice president, product management, travel, in a blog post. Google bases the data on city and county-level information it analyzes from its flight search and hotel search data from the week before on a rolling basis

A search for Denver, for example, found that 63 percent of flights were operating last week, and 88 percent of hotels had availability.

Google also added a filter that makes it quicker to figure out which hotels and vacation rentals have refundable rates on Google Trips
, the company’s interface for its travel inspiration content.

While the moves aren’t flashy, they highlight a trend that could have long-term reverberations in the sector. Many consumers are used to turning to Google when they’re researching something they don’t know about, and many have looked to Google first to understand ever-shifting restrictions due to the pandemic at various destinations. But that behavior may reinforce a long-term habit that Google has hoped to cultivate that consumers should start their travel planning on its site and app rather than on competitors’ brands.

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Like price-comparison travel search engines such as Kayak and Skyscanner, Google has been calling out details about travel advisories and restrictions for destinations in its travel-related search results for months.

Many Americans, Britons, and other nationalities are gaining confidence to book domestic travel. The search giant said that in the UK consumers had driven a 350 percent rise in the past week for searches for phrases like “sand beach near me” and an eleven-fold increase in searches for “Brighton beach today.”

But consumers have expressed more trepidation about overseas travel. In the past two weeks, two of the top Lanzarote on the quarantine list.”

Consumers who use Google Travel to search for hotels or things to do will now see trends for lodging and flight availability. They’ll also see which hotels and vacation rentals offer refundable rates at destinations like those.

For more context, see our earlier story: Google Travel Search Is Unrecognizable as Advertising Dries Up. Skift Pro members can exclusively read Dennis Schaal’s weekly briefing on the business of online travel and digital booking.

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Tags: coronavirus, google, google flights, Google Hotels, google travel

Photo credit: A screenshot of a new "free cancellation filter for hotel" feature on Google's travel-related set of search tools. The feature debuted in August 2020. Google

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