Google Trips Takes on Travel Planning Startups - and Succeeds

Google Trips Takes on Travel Planning Startups - and Succeeds
  • Google Trips looks at your inbox to figure out where you're headed
  • It shows you places of interest, and offers useful tips
  • Google Trips also allows you to save trips to refer to offline

On Monday, Google announced a new app called Google Trips, available for both iOS and Android. The app pulls up details related to your trip from your Gmail inbox, and creates a travel advisor customised for you. It's an incredibly easy to use app that does all the set-up by itself - on Android you just start the app and it checks your Google account to start creating a list of trips, both past and upcoming. You can also manually create a trip - add a destination and see the nearby places of interest, although you can't manually add details about your flight or hotel bookings to a trip.

Using the app is a slightly unnerving experience as you can see it create a huge list of all the trips you've ever taken - your tickets and hotel reservations all show up automatically. The highlight of the app is the Things to do card - it shows the top spots for the area, and also a custom list of attractions for you. Looking through some old trips we've taken, the suggestions are really accurate as well, and a reminder of just how well Google knows you.

In practice, Google Trips is a bit like Tripadvisor, or HolidayIQ. You can't book tickets, place a reservation at a restaurant or hotel, or do anything along those lines. Google Trips serves as a handy reminder for your bookings, and shows you what all you can do on your holiday. All of this can be saved for offline viewing - so that you don't waste data while roaming - which is a huge benefit as well. It's really handy if travel for your means a collection of tagged Pocket articles, with details about your schedule stored across email and Evernote.

Trips works out plans for you in the Day plans section - choose how long you want to spend on a plan, and it will start showing different suggestions and if you see something you like, press the save button to add it to your list. In different places, the app also has cards about things such as food and drink, getting around, and things you need to know, which contain useful information that you should think of as a FAQ section.

Where it falls short is that it relies too heavily on reviews on Google. That's a problem at least for travel within India, where the number of reviews and the quality of reviews for various points of interest can be less than ideal. In India, specialised sites such as Zomato and HolidayIQ tend to give much more useful information. On the other hand, with international destinations we've had less of a problem getting around based solely on what Google says.

One feature that the Trips team could consider for the future is to link it up with Google Photos - that app can already create albums for your holidays and does a great job of automatically putting together an album; if Trips were to sync with that so that your past trips would appear even richer, it would be a great feature to have.

According to MakeMyTrip's Chief Product Officer Anshuman Bapna, travel is a process that starts with planning and research, followed by actual booking, and finally, the various things you can offer to a traveller during the trip. "Booking is only between 30-40, but no one is really doing 0-30 and 40-100 right now," Bapna said. Google Trips is firmly looking at that part of the experience, and it's not something that other companies have been very successful in for now.

There are pros and cons to using Google Trips over other travel planning apps. On the one hand, Trips is supremely fast and easy to use. You literally don't have to do anything. And thanks to the ridiculous amount of information Google has accumulated over the years, it's pretty easy for the app to throw up something useful no matter where you want to go. On the other hand, this means that the information is largely lacking any editorial voice - you won't get the human touch that tells you about things you didn't know to look for. It's all by the numbers while most of the travel planning startups focus on bringing in human expertise (though that's of course partly because they don't have access to the kind of data Google does) in order to give you a more personal experience. Google counters that by using its knowledge about you to offer a more personalised experience.

There's a tradeoff here, as there is with just about all of Google's services. For that extra bit of convenience, you're handing over yet another slice of data for the company to use so that it understands you even better as you tell it about the places you visit and what places you're interested in seeing. But it comes together and works so well that it's easy to see a lot of people choosing convenience over privacy, every time.

Google Trips is available now, free, on both Google Play and iTunes.


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