While analysts said that
Destinations on Google is not a game changer on its own, the new tool is a
significant step toward giving users an easier-to-use mobile travel-planning
And while Google’s past
success with products in the travel space has been mixed, analysts said it was
too early to tell how successful Destinations on Google might be.
Phocuswright’s vice president of research, said the driving force behind
Destinations on Google is providing a mobile search offering.
“There are still challenges with mobile content, where a
lot of suppliers and travel companies’ mobile sites are not as robust,” Quinby
said. “There are still limitations about deep linking into apps, native apps,
and that’s where the really robust travel content and personalized user
experiences are. So I think the Destinations product is part of a much greater
shift to really adapt the travel search and planning process to a mobile
Jake Fuller, an analyst with Guggenheim Investments, said
that while mobile is growing in other verticals, the app might be especially
relevant to the travel industry.
Travel isn’t something people do every day, so
travel-related apps are more likely to be buried in a smartphone or deleted
altogether after use, Fuller said.
“Travel’s much less frequent,” he said. “So it may be
that travel is an interesting vertical for someone like Google in the mobile
landscape. Given that frequency of usage, mobile Web may be more relevant in
this vertical than others.”
Google’s search data show Destinations on Google will
likely meet a rising demand. According to the company, mobile travel inquiries
increased by almost 50% from January 2015 to the start of this year.
Additionally, mobile devices accounted for almost half of Google Flights
queries and more than 60% of destination information queries.
The service is accessed through a Google search on a
mobile phone’s browser or on the Google Mobile app. A search — for example,
“Europe destinations” — will pull up several locations based on popularity. In
the Europe case, users are shown photos, brief descriptors and flight and hotel
prices for London and Paris. Clicking through to more destinations brings up a
slew of cities, again based on popularity.
Clicking through brings users to an “explore” page that
includes destination information, itineraries, top sites, weather and crowd
information, videos and other nearby places to visit. Users can also click onto
a “plan a trip” page, which includes dynamic pricing data from Google Flights
and Google’s hotel booking program.
Google provided previews of the technology at
Phocuswright’s annual conference last fall, so it was known to analysts in the
“It’s still fairly fresh with the launch,” Fuller said.
“We had seen the demo, but we haven’t really had a chance to play with it live
Quinby agreed. “I think that it’s all a wait and see,
quite frankly,” he said, “because Google is obviously very, very strong … in
terms of just traditional search, the search that we’ve all come to use kind of
second nature. But when it comes to these specific travel products, such as
flight and some of their hotel-search products, the traction hasn’t been as
Google, Quinby said, has “absolutely got an uneven track
record” with travel products. Destinations on Google, he said, “is getting a
lot of attention today because it’s Google, but let’s see where things stand
six months from now, and a year from now.”
Initially, Google’s presence in the travel space was
viewed with some trepidation within the industry out of fear that the company
would attempt to cut out OTAs, Fuller said. The concern was that “they would
build out a fully realized travel vertical,” and that fear was further spurred
when Google acquired ITA Software in 2011.
But with its slow build-out of travel products, that fear
began to dissipate, according to Fuller.
Lately, Google has more quickly updated and improved its
travel products, he said, “but the direction they’re going has also become
clear, it’s pretty clear at this point that they’re not looking to displace the
OTAs. They’re not looking to build out a directly competitive product.”
Instead, Fuller said, it appears that Google might be
attempting to dislodge the “layer above” OTAs by sending traffic to Google-sponsored
products instead of sites like TripAdvisor. They can create an attractive lead,
then sell it to the OTAs.
Quinby added that while the ITA acquisition created a lot
of buzz, “it really turned out to not have an enormous impact. Their consumer
uptake was just not as great.”
Most important with the recent move, though, is the
mobile component, he said, which makes sense considering the current mobile
“The conversion rate on mobile is still relatively low,”
Quinby said, “because the mobile experience for travelers still is not as good
as it is on a desktop in a lot of cases, so you have a lot of mobile shopping
and then migration to desktop for booking.”
He also said he did not view Destinations on Google as a
threat to travel agents.
“There’s already just such an abundance of information
and content [that] I don’t think this really changes the equation for travel
agents, frankly, one iota,” Quinby said. “All a travel agent’s customers today
are already shopping online and are coming into travel agents or picking up the
phone after having already researched and have a good sense of what they want
and can expect. So now, they’re looking for that expertise, that guidance and
that kind of personalized service.”