NEW YORK • Google wants to make it easy for travellers to decide where and when to go on vacation and to see at a glance what a trip is likely to cost, right from their mobile phones.
The company recently announced a search feature, Destinations on Google, that touches on almost every aspect of a vacation, from research to flight selection, hotel booking to itinerary planning.
Destinations does not offer off- the-beaten-path guides or exclusive information that cannot be found elsewhere on the Web.
Rather, it is meant to make researching and planning a trip on a mobile phone (typically a clumsy experience) more intuitive and productive for the occasional traveller by delivering good-quality basic information.
Available through the mobile browser or the Google app on iOS and Android, here is how it works.
WHERE TO GO
On your smartphone, open your browser or the Google app and search for, say, "Europe vacation".
A grid of multiple destination tiles will appear - Paris, London, Rome and Prague, to name a few - each with an appealing photo. These are some of the most popular European destinations according to Google.
Each photo has some information beneath, including the cheapest week to go within the next six months (based on your origin and the destination), the cost of the cheapest flight for that week and the average price of a hotel (three-star or the next available class).
If you are looking for less frequented and up-and-coming places such as Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, you have to make your initial search more specific: Instead of searching for "Europe vacation", search instead for "southern Europe vacation". Or if you have a particular destination in mind, like Split in Croatia, you can type "Split, Croatia vacation" into the search box and it will turn up.
In other words, you can search at the city, state, country or continent level. If you just search for Greece, for instance, you will see a carousel of "destinations" (Athens, Santorini, Rhodes) that you can scroll through and click into for more details.
A word of caution: When you begin a search, Google uses your current location to determine the origin city (and therefore the price) for flights.
NARROW THE OPTIONS
You can filter those "Europe vacation" search results by travel dates, price and interests such as architecture, beach, sailing or skiing.
Just tap the appropriate heading on the top of the screen and adjust the filters. Your search results will update accordingly.
BUILD AN ITINERARY
On that same destination page you reached by tapping a photo is a Plan A Trip tab that lets you select how many people are travelling, the number of stops you are willing to make when you fly, the number of nights you plan to stay and your desired hotel class (up to five stars).
Once you add those details, you can use an interactive price bar graph. With a swipe right or left, it slides through the months, showing you the changing price of your trip over time.
One of the niftiest features of Destinations is Popular Itineraries: trips through a country in a logical order with details about how far apart each site or activity is so you can maximise your time.
But unlike most itineraries you find in travel publications, Popular Itineraries are not created by editors or writers. They are based on anonymous and aggregated data across a large pool of travellers who have opted into sharing their mobile location data with Google.
BOOK YOUR TRIP
While some Destinations features call to mind online travel agencies such as Expedia and Travelocity, Destinations is not meant to emphasise shopping for flights and hotels.
Its primary purpose is to help users figure out where to go.
The technology of Google Flights and hotel search are baked into Destinations. Google Flights shows options across multiple airlines, but to book, you go to an airline's website.
Choosing a hotel through Destinations takes you to a Google search page with information about the hotel, its location, reviews and the option to book through a partner site such as Hotels.com, Booking. com or Venere.com.
Google says Destinations is designed for the leisure traveller who takes a trip or two a year and is concerned about making the right choices for that big getaway. He is interested in popular places and wants to see the major sites.
Is Destinations regularly unearthing hidden treasures? No.
Does Destinations make it easier to spark ideas and to start plotting? Absolutely. You can type "Caribbean vacation" in the search box and instantly begin finding the island that is right for you.
You can do that on some vacation- idea apps, but most are haphazard and divorced from useful information about flights and hotels. Destinations on Google integrates the puzzle pieces.
NEW YORK TIMES