Narrow the Options
You can filter those “Europe vacation” search results by travel dates, price and interests such as architecture, beach, camping, culture, golf, hiking, nature, sailing, skiing. Just tap the appropriate heading on the top of the screen and adjust the filters. Your search results will update accordingly. When I filtered Europe for skiing, for instance, my screen was instantly repopulated with images of mountains and vacation options for Bansko, Bulgaria; Chamonix, France; Zermatt, Switzerland; St. Anton am Arlberg, Austria; Sierra Nevada Ski Station, Spain; and more.
See that lovely photo of Venice? Tap it, or the photo of any city on your screen that captures your imagination, to learn more. Background information about each place is culled from Wikipedia as well as from a New York content team that also writes the descriptions for Google Maps. On each destination page, on a tab that says Explore, you can check out its top sights (in Amsterdam, for example, the Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, Vondelpark), see popular travel months for tourists, find out about the climate and watch related videos (more users are turning to mobile video for travel research, Google said).
The “top sights” are just that: the obvious must-see attractions, not lesser-known gems or nascent activities. And sorry, foodies, you won’t find a guide to restaurants and bars, either. Think of Destinations as your basic Crayola crayon box; it is not aimed at those who want Magic Mint.
Build an Itinerary
On that same destination page that you reached by tapping a photo is a Plan a Trip tab that allows you to select how many people are traveling, the number of stops you’re 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 maximize 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 travelers who have opted into sharing their mobile location data with Google. It’s the same technology Google uses to create its Popular Times graphs; i.e. people using mobile phones in a restaurant help Google determine the busiest and slowest times. As a result, you can see, for example, that on a Thursday night Bar Boulud in New York is most popular between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. and that getting a seat at 10 p.m. would be easier.
To find Popular Itineraries, search for a country and add “vacation” or “travel.” Google will then turn up a guide; to get it, click on the blue button under the basic information for the country. When I searched for “France vacation,” there were several Popular Itineraries in the travel guide, including seven days in Nice, Avignon, Montpellier, Toulouse and Bordeaux; four days in Paris, Burgundy and Lyon; and five days in Paris, Strasbourg and Colmar.
A different feature, Suggested Itineraries, is not currently based on aggregate phone data; it offers sample itineraries for cities, not entire countries, by the content team at Google.
Book Your Trip
While some Destinations features call to mind online travel agencies like Expedia and Travelocity, Destinations is not meant to emphasize shopping for flights and hotels. Its primary purpose, a Google product manager told me, is to help users figure out where to go. The technology of Google Flights, my go-to comparison tool, and hotel search are baked into Destinations. Google Flights shows options across multiple airlines, but to book you go to an airline’s own 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 traveler who takes a trip or two a year and is concerned about making the right choices for that big getaway. He or she is interested in popular places and wants to see the major sites.
Destinations is not for those looking for obscure art galleries, or for foodies seeking the next great restaurant or food truck. Experienced travelers who have a short list of where they want to go, who fly frequently, who use particular airlines because they have elite status and who seek off-the-beaten path itineraries won’t be surprised by the cities or points of interest they see on Destinations.
That said, chances are they’ll like the planning tools. The price bar graph is a quick way to narrow down when to go. And a flexible dates feature allows you to say that you want to go in June, for instance, and then see your travel options for the entire month, rather than for specific dates. Details about rainfall and temperature mean you don’t have to run a separate search to see if you were planning to visit during hurricane season. And Points of Interest and Suggested Itineraries could be handy for business travelers parachuting into a place for a night or two but hoping to get to a must-see spot between meetings.
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’s right for you. You can do that on some vacation-idea apps, but most are haphazard and, more important, divorced from useful information about flights and hotels. Destinations on Google integrates the puzzle pieces.