Google tries again to muscle in on crowded market for travel planning apps

Google Trips lets you build an itinerary from flight information, hotel and car reservations retrieved from your e-mail, proposes places to go and things to see (and sends you lots of travel-related ads)

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 September, 2016, 6:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 5:16pm

Google wants you to take a new companion along on your next trip: a travel app that plans each day and each excursion.

With Google Trips, available on iOS and Android, you can build an itinerary from flight information, hotel and car reservations retrieved from your e-mail and discover places to go and things to see while you are on the go.

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Google is not the only technology company trying to book more space on your smartphone. There’s been steady growth in travel planning apps in recent years. In June, Yahoo rolled out Yahoo Radar that, like Google Trips, organises reservations and taps partners such as Yelp and TripAdvisor to highlight must-see sights and nearby restaurants. Airbnb is testing a new travel app, Airbnb Trips, that recommends similar activities, much like a hotel concierge.

This is the latest attempt by Google to propel itself into the online travel business. In 2011, Google overcame antitrust scrutiny to buy ITA Software, the flight-data company that now powers its flight-search service. In March, Google launched Destinations, a mobile search tool that functions like a digital travel agent.

“The bottom line is people spend a lot of money on travel and the more Google can get them to consider it as a go-to place for travel information, the more opportunity Google will have to show them travel-related ads,” said long-time Google observer Danny Sullivan, founding editor of Search Engine Land.

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Equal parts trip planner and travel guide, Google Trips scours Gmail for travel information to create an overview of your trip, then helps you decide where to stop along the way, even how to get from one destination to the next.

“You might get recommendations from friends, professional travel guides, or online reviews – but figuring out how to squeeze everything you want to do into a finite window of time can be stressful, especially when you’re in a new place, often with limited access to the web,” says Stefan Frank, product manager for Google Trips.

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The stops are laid out on a Google map to guide sightseers around unfamiliar places. And, if you don’t have an internet connection, you can browse your saved trip information when you’re offline.

The Google Trips app isn’t just about making life on the road easier for travellers, says Greg Sterling, vice president of strategy at the Local Search Association. Google is looking to harvest more data to target ads.

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“If this were to take off, and millions of people have the app installed on their phone, that creates a huge audience for Google to get data from,” Sterling said. “Location data is hugely valuable as is the behaviour of users.”