Google is trying to make planning vacations less of a hassle. To do that, it's launching a new feature today called Destinations on Google that's meant to help you figure out where to go, when to go, and what to do there; it'll also help you get cheap flights and hotels.
Google generates possible itineraries based on its travel data
Destinations on Google isn't a new website. Instead, you'll stumble upon it during mobile searches for travel deals and advice. If you search "European vacations," you'll be presented with a grid of major cities, what it'll cost to get to them, and the best weeks to go. Search for travel to a specific country or city, and you'll see an option to open up Google's new "travel guide." Regardless of which way you get to it, these searches will lead you into Google's new Destinations feature, which is where you'll find more info on the location and details on the cost of getting and staying there.
Most Destination pages have two tabs. The first is meant to help you explore that location with a description, photos, and videos from around the web. Much more usefully, it also includes itineraries. One of the toughest parts of travel is nailing down exactly how long to spend in each place and where to bounce between, so Google is trying to answer that with a mixture of editorially created and algorithmically generated guides.
Images credit: Google.
At launch, 201 cities will have curated itineraries available — often more than one per location. London, for example, has itineraries for three days of a three-day trip and another itinerary for seeing its literary sights. If you haven't actually made up your mind on which cities to stop in, a country's Destination page will offer several algorithmically generated itineraries based on where Google Maps has detected people traveling and how long it sees them staying there for. The overall goal, says Radhika Malpani, Google Travel's engineering director, is to "let people explore when they don't know when and where they want to go." The itineraries should be pretty useful for that (one option in Greece closely matched the final leg of a trip I took a couple years ago), but there are some limitations; Google can't, for instance, tell you how to book transportation from one place to another.
Destinations is only available on mobile
Destination pages' other tab is where Google will help you book your travel and stay. It's handy, but it isn't much more than what Google Flights and hotel search can do now. It essentially combines the two services to present you with a single price for your trip. Like Google Flights, it'll show you the cheapest dates to travel, so that you can better plan when you want depart. Unfortunately, you still have to book every flight and hotel individually through that specific company's website — so even if you like one of Google's itineraries enough to follow it day by day, you'll have to book each flight and hotel on its own.
There's one other oddity to Destinations. While you're probably used to researching vacations and booking flights on the desktop, Google has designed its new product exclusively for mobile — as in, next to none of this will show up in a desktop search. That could change in the future, but Google says it wanted to specifically design this as a mobile product, since it's seeing big increases in travel search there; half of Google Flights searches happen on mobile, as do 60 percent of "destination information" searches. Those figures are only growing, which explains why Google prioritized your phone.
Google's Project Tango brings Google maps indoors