Google Trips got a good bit of attention on its recent release in September, but I’m not sure I understand the fanfare. Per Forbes, Google Trips is a “fantastic… travel app you should download now.” Many hail it as a personalized travel app, but I’d argue it’s not quite there, yet.
Here’s what it can do. It scours my email to find itineraries and provides quick access to the original emails if I need them. Handy. It keeps my car rental details right there along with the air itineraries. I like this, except I mostly Uber these days. The best part of any of this is that it’s available even when I don’t have Wi-Fi, which isn’t all that often anymore. I’d argue that Google Trips make travel more mobile-friendly.
Otherwise, though, Google Trips is basically a smart destination guide. Using a combination of attractions that I select and my search history, Google Trips will craft attraction itineraries guessing at what my interests are. It’s a nice feature.
But not necessarily innovative.
It’s a useful tool that integrates some data, but it would be more helpful if it understood that I’m the kind of leisure traveler who flies into a major city, spends one or two nights then heads to the country. It isn’t able to pick up much in the way of reservations outside of major cities as far as I can tell, and it definitely doesn’t do attractions and restaurants. Not yet at least.
What would be a game-changer is to make it more personal. Google Trips is on the cusp of doing this with the itineraries feature, but it must go further than this. It needs to understand how I travel more than it needs to understand what I like to do. What would be useful is to have the app locate where I am and design opportunities for me to get from point A to Point B. For instance, given Google’s mapping capabilities, it could tell me which train station I’m closest to when I request an Uber, so I know where to go, or the easiest way to get from mid-town Manhattan to the Upper West side based on where I’m standing.
My point is that Google Trips is a step in the right direction, but it’s just that, a step. It’s not going to revolutionize leisure travel in its current form (nor do I think that was the intent but the media seemed to think it was revolutionary).
Where it has the potential to make waves is in shifting our data reliance as travelers. Should we choose to engage with it, it will incrementally give Google more power over our information by encouraging us to rely on Google, Gmail, Maps, Local, etc. more than we do other sources so that we can integrate with Google Trips. Most of us are already reliant on Google for a great deal, but in bits and pieces, it may shift travelers away from aggregators and reviews sites toward Google. Moreover, when Google follows with a booking engine, for instance, the industry might actually feel it this time.
Oliver Heckman, VP of Engineering for Google Travel, said that the “master plan is to be the connector that builds awesome travel experiences, qualifies users and then sends them off to the right partners,” but he also mentioned that this could eventually look like helping travelers plan and book travel. While this might not occur through Google Trips, it could in an adjacent, integrated app, such as Allo.
At this point, I’ll use it to get to my travel details. And maybe it’s possible that when I’m in the app trying to get to my confirmation number for the millionth time, I’ll use Google Local for attractions and restaurants or reviews. Maybe I’ll end up skipping the TripAdvisor step eventually, which I suspect was Google’s goal.
There was some initial stock kick back in the industry among TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Priceline, but Google Trips doesn’t really pose a grave risk until it ratchets up the kind of data it integrates so that it can personalize to the traveler, understanding who the traveler is, not what the traveler wants to do. If enough travelers engage with the app, this is likely, but I question how many travelers will rely on it in its current form.