Google debuts Trips, a mobile app to plan travel itineraries faster
The most powerful trick of Google Trips is that the app suggests activities to do at a destination based on time, weather, ratings by other Google users, and your past mobile device behavior.
The app pulls reservation details out of a user’s Gmail account to build lists of suggested itineraries. Once a user is in their destination, the tool can suggest relevant attractions based on time of day and the user’s location.
Mapping out favorite attractions can help travelers make efficient use of their time. In Tnooz’s tests, we found that Google Trips makes it quick to see which attractions are open, account for how far it takes to get from point A to point B, and estimate how long visitors typically stay at each stop.
Richard Holden, who since 2013 has developed product strategy and led product management teams focused on Google’s Travel products, said the results are produced without any paid placements and are based on algorithmic calculations of popularity. He told Tnooz:
“Today this is purely an organic product. We want to focus first on building a good user experience. We think there are some interesting partnership opportunities in the future, but we really haven’t looked into those at all.”
The Trips app has all the hallmarks of a serious effort, unlike the brand’s half-hearted and now forgotten FieldTrip, a tour guide app pushed several years ago. FieldTrip relied on content from selected publishers and users for a limited set of destinations — which limited its usefulness.
Unlike Field Trip, the search giant is providing a bit of marketing muscle behind Google Trips, as signaled by a promotional video that it released today to tout the app.
To encourage habitual use, Google Trips is also a place to store flight, hotel, and car rental information. The app pulls from Gmail, so that you can see your reservation details in one place. The app also has your hotel confirmation details and lets you plot your hotel on a map, even if your device lacks access to an internet data connection.
One major implication of Trips for attractions managers and food-and-beverage vendors is to make sure that the business details on their Google Local cards, or organic directory listings, are up-to-date.
Vendors may also want to encourage customers to post reviews via Google Local. The importance of Google’s Local Guides program is also implied, as these volunteers are often significant providers of ratings and photos to Google Local, which in turn feeds Trips and other Google Travel content.
Day plans and “relevant” suggestions
Customization is front-and-center. For some users at some destinations, Google Trips has a “For You” option that offers recommendations of places to see and dine based on what the app knows about you. The app pulls your saved places from Maps and the types of searches you’ve done in the past to suggest some places to see that may be particularly appealing.
Holden said that on a visit to London, the Trips app recommended he visit Hampstead Heath, a park that is a popular attraction, because his Android device knows he’s often visited the neighborhood nearby in recent years (which he has done because his brother happens to live in that area).
For 200 popular destinations globally, the mobile app shows “day plans”, itineraries that include a mix of the most popular sights and attractions.
A uniquely Google perk is that, for each major attraction, Google displays the typical length of time that visitors stay, based on the anonymized behavior data of millions of Android mobile users. The app combines that data with average travel times from its Maps product to build day-long itineraries.
Tnooz played with a test version of the app. For Rio de Janeiro, possible day plans included thematic tours like “Top Sights in the Old City”, “Beyond the Beaches: Highlights”, and “Rio with Kids.”
Users aren’t stuck with pre-made plans. Clicking an edit icon lets you swap in or out other attractions.
For instance, a day plan on Art & Architecture mapped out sites that have been highly rated by Google users, such as the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum.
On the plus side, Google pulls in information on the opening hours of museums and other venues, so that you can adjust plans on the fly or save them for other days.
On the negative side, Google’s algorithmic approach to compiling suggestions means that the recommendations are weighted toward attractions that have built up favorable reviews via Google Local over time. This approach risks missing out on just-opened venues and smaller local gems that don’t have as much foot traffic. (For instance, Google’s lists for Rio de Janeiro that focus on Art and Architecture or Top Sights overlooks the Museum of Tomorrow, a critically acclaimed building that opened last December.)
Holden notes that the day plans and other lists have been lightly curated by Google team members. You can also search for things to do by keyword.
If your destination is not one of the top 200 most-popular, Google Trips will not offer full or part-day itineraries. But it will still provide suggestions of things to do and places for food and drink, grouped thematically.
The itineraries can be saved to be viewed offline, in case a traveler faces a lack of steady internet access or wants to avoid roaming data charges on a foreign cellular network.
When you first use Google Trips, you are presented with a list of the trips it infers you have taken based on clusters of reservation emails it has found in Gmail messages for the past decade. You can view the emails where it found this info in each trip’s menu, or you can turn off the feature if you don’t want trips added from your Gmail. As of launch, there’s no way to add in reservation details manually or from other email services besides Gmail.
The app’s development may signal a more dedicated focus on travel by Google. In the past 16 months, Google has released a set of browser-based tools for destination inspiration and research, it revamped its hotel search interface and added instant booking (and made its payment structure more flexible for hotels), and made its flight search more mobile-friendly.
Sean O’Neill had roles as a reporter and editor-in-chief at Tnooz between July 2012 and January 2017.