Skift Take

Many travel brands have been toying with financial technology, or fintech, to cater to new consumer needs brought on by the pandemic. Google's latest revival probably won't be a one-hit wonder.

Google is bringing back its price guarantee program for flights after its life was cut short by the pandemic.

The feature is just one of several significant travel product tweaks being made by the search giant, which also includes rail bookings and a focus on the “confusing” tours and activities sector, as well as a controversial backtrack on its carbon emissions calculator.

“There was something back in 2019 we were working on, a flight price guarantee,” said Richard Holden, vice president, product management, Google, at Skift Global Forum in New York on Tuesday. “Then then the pandemic hit. That’s something that we’re looking at trying to renew in the next year or so. It’s an interesting opportunity and consumers really loved that we experimented with it before.”

Holden also defended the search giant’s decision to eliminate contrail data from its emissions calculations. A BBC report claimed it was “airbrushing” the emissions impact of flights.

“That’s definitely not what we’re doing,” he told moderator Dennis Schaal, Skift’s founding editor and executive editor, adding the news coverage was “overblown.”

“We listened to academics, but on a per flight basis there was still a bit of debate. We decided to pull back but only from a temporary perspective.”

That information could return in the next year or so. But before then Google could further develop its tours and activities services, through its “Things to do” feature — despite phasing out its Reserve with Google tour bookings tool.

“It’s an interesting space. It’s still a fragmented industry, there’s a lot more last-minute planning,” Holden said. “I still think consumers are still confused about where to find information.”

Meanwhile, plans are underway to expand its new rail booking feature, which improves and streamlines the search experience on Google.com by connecting to train operators directly.

Countries currently include Germany, Spain, Italy and Japan.

“As you can imagine, this is just where we are starting,” Holden added.

Tags: climate change, google, online travel agencies, online travel newsletter, rail, skift global forum, skiftlive, tours and activities

Photo credit: Richard Holden, vice president, product management, Google, speaking with Dennis Schaal, Skift's executive editor and founding editor, at Skift Global Forum in New York on Sept. 20. Neil van Niekerk / Skift