Should companies involved in the travel-planning process be concerned about the release last week of Destinations on Google, a mobile format designed to help travelers get from the top of the funnel (when they are still deciding where to go and what to do) to the bottom (booking)?
The stitching together by Google of travel research, imagery, consumer behavior and inventory (linked to third-party and supplier-direct booking engines) has been a long time coming. Google flight- and hotel-search functions have been up and running for years. It owns Zagat Surveys for restaurant reviews. In addition, Google Earth, Google’s Art Project, which displays 360-degree views of rooms in major art museums; Google Translate, the Google-owned GPS navigation app Waze; and the panoramic displays of Street View could all be seen as travel-related products.
But until Destinations, it appeared that Google’s travel-related projects were being released in a linear, rather than integrated, fashion.
That has puzzled me. A few years ago, I suggested to a Google executive that his company could use Google Earth to zoom into Athens, Street View to bring the user to a hotel, Art Project to show the rooms in the hotel and then perhaps have an avatar take the booking. “Why don’t you do that?” I asked.
“Why don’t you?” he replied. He said Google had already developed the tools, and there was nothing preventing someone from putting together a product similar to the one I described.
(Well, nothing but technical know-how and funding.)
Google Destinations has a lot of utility, and it presents consumers with multiple options, so trips can be customized to some extent. The Google presenters at the press conference where Destinations was revealed spoke about how many windows would need to be open to keep track of similar information on a laptop. “It’s really painful,” he said. “We’re radically simplifying how to do this.”
OK, travel advisers, I can hear what you’re thinking: How is this an improvement over outsourcing all this “pain” to a human travel counselor? What could be simpler than letting someone knowledgeable do all the work for you?
If there is one thing we’ve learned over the 20-odd years that self-booking tools have existed, it’s that some people like to do things for themselves for various reasons. They may feel it saves money. That it gives them a greater sense of control. They might have had a bad experience with an agent.
Destinations on Google appears to be an improvement over doing research with multiple laptop windows open. And it might appeal to a new generation that has no experience working with a travel professional.
The day before the Google announcement, I had spoken with Rina Plapler, a partner at the branding consultancy MBLM.
MBLM’s specialization is “brand intimacy,” which it determines by measuring the intensity (broken into three stages: sharing, bonding and fusing) and prevalence of strong consumer relationships. According to its most recent report, travel-related companies have the least intimate relationships of any of the eight consumer sectors it surveyed.