Your next vacation via Google's 'travel agent'

Your next vacation via Google's 'travel agent'

Destinations, a travel tool, makes planning a trip on a mobile phone more intuitive and productive

Your next vacation via Google's 'travel agent'
Google wants to make it easy for travellers to decide where and when to go on vacation, and to see at a glance what a trip is likely to cost, right from their mobile phones. Two weeks ago, the company announced a search feature, Destinations on Google, that touches on almost every aspect of a vacation, from research to flight selection, hotel booking and itinerary planning.

Destinations does not offer off-the-beaten-path guides or exclusive information that can’t be found elsewhere on the Web. Rather, it’s meant to make researching and planning a trip on a mobile phone (typically a clumsy experience) more intuitive and productive for the occasional traveller by delivering good-quality basic information.

This is the first time Google has introduced a travel tool on mobile before desktop; it’s available through your mobile browser or the Google app on iOS and Android.

Everything on Destinations begins with a single search screen; there’s no drilling down through multiple websites and hopping among them, no entering your desired number of nights or travel companions again and again. Here’s how it works.

Where to Go

On your smartphone, open your browser or the Google app and search for, say, “Europe vacation.” A grid of multiple destination tiles will appear — Paris, London, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, Prague, Amsterdam, to name a few — each with an appealing photo. These are the most popular European destinations according to Google.

Each photo has a bit of information beneath it, including the cheapest week to go within the next six months (based on your origin and the destination), the cost of the cheapest flight for that week, as well as the average price of a hotel (three-star or the next available class).

It’s Europe at-a-glance, an easy-to-scroll, elegant reminder of some of what’s out there — emphasis on “some of.” If you’re looking for less frequented and up-and-coming places such as Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, you have to make your initial search more specific: Instead of searching for “Europe vacation,” search instead for “southern Europe vacation” and you’ll find it. Or, if you have a particular destination in mind, like Split in Croatia, you can type “Split, Croatia vacation” into the search box and it will turn up.

In other words, you can search at the city, state (“California destinations”), country or continent level. If you just search for Greece, for instance, you’ll see a carousel of “destinations” (Athens, Santorini, Rhodes) that you can scroll through and click into for more details.

A word of caution: When you begin a search, Google uses your current location to determine the origin city (and therefore the price) for fli-ghts. That’s a problem since I might be in Miami when I want to research a trip from New York to Latin America. Google didn’t confirm whe-ther in the future users will be able to set their starting point, but it seems a logical next step.

Narrow the Options

You can filter those “Europe vacation” search results by travel dates, price and interests such as architecture, beach, camping, culture, golf, hiking, nature, sailing, skiing. Just tap the appropriate heading on the top of the screen and adjust the filters. Your search results will update accordingly. When I filtered Europe for skiing, for instance, my screen was instantly repopulated with images of mountains and vacation options for Bansko, Bulgaria; Chamonix, France; Zermatt, Switzerland; St Anton am Arlberg, Austria; Sierra Nevada Ski Station, Spain; etc.

Build an Itinerary

On that same destination page that you reached by tapping a photo is a Plan a Trip tab that allows you to select how many people are travelling, the number of stops you’re willing to make when you fly, the number of nights you plan to stay and your desired hotel class (up to 5 stars). Once you add those details you can use an interactive price bar graph. With a swipe right or left it slides through the months, showing you the changing price of your trip over time.

One of the niftiest features of Destinations is Popular Itineraries: trips through a country in a logical order with details about how far apart each site or activity is so you can maximise your time. But unlike most itineraries you find in travel publications, Popular Itineraries are not created by editors or writers. They are based on anonymous and aggregated data across a large pool of travellers who have opted into sharing their mobile location data with Google.

Book Your Trip

While some Destinations features call to mind online travel agencies like Expedia and Travelocity, Destinations is not meant to emphasise shopping for flights and hotels. Its primary purpose, a Google product manager told me, is to help users figure out where to go. The technology of Google Flights and hotel search are baked into Destinations.

Google Flights shows options across multiple airlines, but to book you go to an airline’s website. Choosing a hotel through Destinations takes you to a Google search page with information about the hotel, its location, reviews and the option to book through a partner site such as, or

Bottom Line

Google says Destinations is designed for the leisure traveller who takes a trip or two a year and is concerned about making the right choices for that big getaway. He or she is interested in popular places and wants to see the major sites.

Destinations is not for those looking for obscure art galleries, or for foodies seeking the next great restaurant or food truck. Experienced travellers who have a short list of where they want to go, who fly frequently, who use particular airlines because they have elite status and who seek off-the-beaten path itineraries won’t be surprised by the cities or points of interest they see on Destinations.

That said, chances are they’ll like the planning tools. The price bar graph is a quick way to narrow down when to go. And a flexible dates feature allows you to say that you want to go in June, for instance, and then see your travel options for the entire month, rather than for specific dates.

Details about rainfall and temperature mean you don’t have to run a separate search to see if you were planning to visit during hurricane season. And Points of Interest and Suggested Itineraries could be handy for business travellers parachuting into a place for a night or two but hoping to get to a must-see spot between meetings.

Is Destinations regularly unearthing hidden treasures? No. Does Destinations make it easier to spark ideas and to start plotting? Absolutely. You can type “Caribbean vacation” in the search box and instantly begin finding the island that’s right for you. You can do that on some vacation-idea apps, but most are haphazard and, more important, divorced from useful information about flights and hotels. Destinations on Google integrates the puzzle pieces.

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