Last week, Google quietly unveiled a set of new features for its travel app, leading some to suggest the search giant is now a free travel agent. The web app can now even tell you where to stay in your would-be destinations and the best times of year to visit so you can try to beat the crowds and enjoy some decent weather.
But how much of a threat do the latest features really pose to travel agents? In this article, we look at what’s new with Google’s travel app, where the hottest destinations for 2020 are and what it all means for travel agents.
What’s new with Google’s travel app?
Last week, Google’s Travel Product Management Director, Andrew Silverman, published an article on The Keyword, entitled 5 tips for finding the best hotels in 2020. In the article, Silverman delivers his five tips for finding the best hotels around the world this year by using the Google travel app. But the article is actually more of an understated introduction to a bunch of new features to help travellers do the following:
- Find the best times to visit places
- Choose the best area of a city to stay in
- See personal results and recommendations based on their previous travels
- Calculate the total cost of hotel bookings
- Add a home screen shortcut to continue planning with a single click
Within these “tips” are a number of new features that make the Google travel app a more capable tool – not only in terms of finding the right hotel but also when it comes to planning an entire trip.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these features.
Finding the best times to visit places
In the age of Instagram and trending travel hotspots, it’s getting more difficult to find places that aren’t overrun with tourists. And this can be particularly crushing if you’ve saved thousands for that “once-in-a-lifetime” trip only to find the experience of being there doesn’t live up to the image you were sold on social media.
To help battle this problem, Google wants to help you choose the best time to visit places so you can beat the crowds. If you’ve ever used Google Maps to check the busiest times of a cafe or local place of interest, you’ll already know how this works.
Google simply tracks smartphone localisations to calculate how busy a place will be for each month of the year. It also provides weather predictions and how the average pricing of an area is affected throughout the year. This should help travellers choose the best time to visit new places, based on the criteria that matter most to them.
Choosing the best neighbourhood to stay in
Another common problem season travellers will know all about is visiting a great city but choosing the wrong area to stay in. This is especially common if you’re booking online without any existing knowledge of a city. You find a great deal on a hotel and you’re chuffed. But, once you arrive, you realise you’ve booked the family into a week-long stay in the city’s red-light district.
Close your eyes, kids.
To help avoid such blunders, travellers can also use the Google travel app to find the best neighbourhood to stay in for each city on their travel list.
As Andrew Silverman explains: “Part of the fun of travelling is discovering a city’s different neighbourhoods—but how do you choose one to be your home base during a trip? Click on “Where to stay” to get a summary of top neighbourhoods, including what each area is known for, its location score, and the average cost of hotels there. Select an area you’re interested in, and you’ll see it highlighted on the map. When you’ve decided which neighbourhoods you’d like to narrow your search to, click “Apply” to update results to include only hotels in these areas.”
Personal results and recommendations
The more people use Google to plan and research their travels, the better the app gets at understanding what they’re looking for. Now, the tool even returns personalised results and recommendations to individual travellers, based on their previous trips and app sessions.
“For example, if you’ve been researching Tokyo Tower, we’ll highlight how far it is from hotels nearby. These personalized results are only visible to you, and you can adjust your account settings to disable them at any time.”
The Google travel app will also recommend new hotels that are similar to the ones you’ve stayed at and enjoyed in the past or the same chain in new locations.
Calculate the total cost of hotel bookings
To make travel budgeting (and booking) that little bit easier, the app now displays the detailed pricing information about each hotel option.
Users can see the nightly price and the total cost for the duration they’ve selected. While users in the US and Canada can also see a breakdown of pricing, including and excluding taxes and fees.
Does this spell the end for traditional travel agents?
While it’s always nice to get excited about new innovations from the likes of Google, it seems like it might be too early to call the end for traditional travel agents. According to a survey carried out by travel tech company Travelport, the future for traditional travel agents could be brighter than expected, thanks to – wait for it – Millennials.
Yes, that’s right, the generation that’s ruined everything from dating and retail to marriage and even travelling could be the same one that saves traditional travel agents from the clutches of Google dominance.
Summarising the report, travel research company Skift put its own take on the findings from Travelport’s survey.
“The notion that younger travellers are more comfortable booking online and less likely to consult a travel advisor than their elders is a common assumption. A survey from Travelport, however, finds just the opposite. The survey, which polled 23,000 people from 20 countries, found that 50 percent of the millennial respondents nearly always turn to travel professionals for recommendations, while just 20 percent of Gen Xers and 8 percent of baby boomers said they do.”
It’s important to remember that Millennials have been at the heart of travels digital transition, seeing both the pros and the cons of it. Issues like overcrowding, pollution and sustainable tourism have become mainstream issues with Millennials at the helm of the travel industry. This is the generation known to value experiences over material possessions, so it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to know that this is the demographic most interested in seeking professional travel advice to get the best possible experience from their travels.
The bigger challenge for traditional travel agents will be increasing the percentage of Gen Xers who are likely to turn to them in the future.
The hottest travel destinations for 2020
If you’re still refining your travel marketing strategy for 2020, it always helps to know which destinations people are most interested in. This is another area where Google can help travel brands, as much as the travellers themselves.
According to Google Hotel Search Data (Dec 2019), the top trending locations for 2020 are as follows:
- Da Nang (Vietnam)
- São Paulo (Brazil)
- Seoul (South Korea)
- Tokyo (Japan)
- Tel Aviv (Isreal)
- Marseille (France)
- Vienna (Austria)
- Bangkok (Thailand)
- Dubai (UAE)
- Perth (Australia)
So that gives you an idea of which cities (and countries) to prioritise in your travel marketing efforts for 2020. If you’re not operating in these areas then you can try to position your locations as alternatives to them or find common interests (e.g. surfing in Perth/Australia) that will generate leads for your own brand from people looking at these trending locations.