Google’s increasing focus on travel

The relentless growth in search traffic from mobile devices continues. Google announced this week that mobile travel and shopping searches are up nearly 30% year-on-year.

According to Google, visits to mobile travel sites made up 40% of total travel web traffic in the first quarter of this year and travel mobile conversion rates have grown 10% as users are increasingly ready to book on mobile. However, when it comes to booking their trip, 69% of leisure travellers worry that they’re not finding the best price or making the best decision.

To help users feel more confident about making a booking, Google now makes it easier for people to filter results to find the right flight or hotel at the right price based on Google’s real-time analysis of results.

Google Flights

Google Flights, (which used to be called Google Flight Search), is something many people in NZ don’t appear to be aware of. Similar to flight search sites like WebJet  and Skyscanner, Google Flights is a tool that makes it easy to hunt down flight deals. Whether you’re planning a trip on your desktop, tablet or phone, you can use Google Flights to quickly find cheap flights in seconds, explore destinations on a map, and sign up for fare alerts.

Google Flights is very fast and returns sharp deals on fares which can be filtered and sorted in various ways. Of course, airfare pricing is very volatile and changes continuously.

A new feature Google has just rolled out is price tracking alerts. Instead of having to continually check prices in Google Flights, users can now opt-in to track ticket-price changes for a specific date and route combination. When prices either increase or decrease significantly, they will be notified by email and Google Now cards.

Google is rolling out flight price tracking over the next few weeks in the 26 countries where Google Flights is available and it’s already here in NZ. Whilst this is useful, it’s not a feature limited only to Google Flights — Skyscanner, for example, also offers fare alerts.

Hotel Searches

If you do a search on your phone in Google Maps for hotels in a particular location, such as Auckland, you can filter the results by price, rating, and hotel star as shown below.

auckland hotel search using Google Maps  auckland-hotel-search-filters

Google has just announced that they are rolling out more specific customised filters they are calling Hotel Smart Filters. These will make it easy for people to search for exactly what they want. A somewhat eclectic example Google give is “Pet-friendly hotels in San Francisco under $200”. This feature will first be available in the US and then roll out globally later this year.

Google is also beginning to roll out globally Hotel Deals and Tips during the next couple of months. When searching for a hotel, you may see a ‘Deal’ label when a hotel’s price is lower than usual. These deals are automatically identified by Google algorithms when it sees a significant reduction in price. The ‘Tips’ feature will offer real-time analysis to help users find the best hotels for their needs. Tips may be shown to people when they could save money or find better availability by moving their dates slightly. Again useful, but not a feature unique to Google and something I’ve seen on sites like WotIf.

Why should you care?

As consumers, these tools from Google make travel-related searches and booking from mobile devices increasingly easy. And, if like many, you’ve not checked out Google Flights (https://www.google.com/flights/) it’s worth doing so when you’re planning your next trip and then comparing the deals it returns against other flight search engines.

As we’ve said numerous times before, Google is increasingly becoming an “Answer engine”, rather than simply a search engine.  These enhancements to Google Flights and Hotel Searches are further examples. Whilst they may be useful for consumers, it’s an increasing threat to existing specialist flight and hotel search engines which lack the huge top of mind awareness Google enjoys.

Worth pondering is the question….down the track, could Google pose a similar threat to your industry?

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About the Author Mark Sceats

Mark is a Partner and Senior Consultant at SureFire which he founded back in 2002. Prior to establishing SureFire he worked for KPMG Consulting. Today Mark heads up SEO, embracing the challenges that can come with complex website implementations. Outside of work, his interests beyond his family are running, snowsports, diving and fishing (badly).

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