How Google can plan your next family vacation

Want to plan a trip? Google Destinations can help you decide where to spend your next vacation.

Peter Power/Reuters
The neon Google sign is seen in the foyer of Google's new Canadian engineering headquarters in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario in this January 14, 2016 file photo.

Having a difficult time deciding between a week-long hiking trip in New Zealand and a weekend getaway in the Caribbean? Google can help with that. 

Officially released Tuesday, Google Destinations aims to be a one-stop-shop for Internet surfers looking for their next vacation. After searching for a location on a mobile device, Google Destinations will aggregate a number of options including airfare, hotel prices, popular itineraries, potential forecasts, and heavy tourist dates. 

Integrating the already popular Google Flights and Google Hotel Finder, Destinations seems like a no-brainer for Google. Users can even search for potential trips by interests (such as beach, hiking and skiing), ideal travel dates, or spending budgets. 

But the most surprising aspect of Google Destinations is the place where the feature lives – on your phone.  

“These days, mobile phones make it easier than ever for you to sneak in vacation dreaming and planning here and there – in line at the coffee shop, waiting at the doctor’s office, or on your way to meet a friend,” Radhika Malpani, Google Engineering Director of Travel, wrote in a blog post Tuesday. 

There was a 50 percent increase in travel-related questions on mobile phones in 2015, says Google.

“But even as that number grows, it can be hard to get all the right information in one place on a small screen,” adds Malpani. 

Enter Google Destinations. 

“Search with Google on your mobile phone for the continent, country, or state you’d like to travel to and add the word ‘destination’ to see an easy-to-browse collection of options,” writes Malpani. “So instead of jumping between a dozen links or tabs to get the information you need, you can sit back and scroll – and leave the heavy lifting to us.”

But the small, touch-sensitive screens on mobile phones seem like an unlikely place to do travel research. Why not use a larger desktop monitor in the first place? 

According to a Pew Research Center study released last year, a growing percentage of the American population is becoming "smartphone-dependent," meaning they rely on their mobile device to go online. 

Sixty-four percent of all Americans own a smartphone, and 15 percent have limited options for online access other than their cell phone. After text messaging, Internet was the second most-used feature among all ages of smartphone users – above both voice and video calls, email, and music.

Google clearly is relying on that trend, considering Amazon’s similar feature – also called "Destinations" – was shut down after six months

But some in the tech world say Destinations could use some improvements. 

As The New York Times’ Stephanie Rosenbloom points out, the feature uses the mobile device’s current location to estimate airline prices. So if the user searches while in Miami but wants to travel out of LAX, Google’s airfare pricing will be off unbeknownst to the user. 

And for hotel pricing, Google doesn’t incorporate any alternative rooming sites like Airbnb.

Unlike most travel sites that curate potential itineraries based on travel writers or past visitors, Google’s Popular Itineraries feature is based off of aggregated data from mobile device travelers who share their location with Google; i.e. where the most phones were and for how long. 

“Destinations does not offer off-the-beaten-path guides or exclusive information that can’t be found elsewhere on the web,” notes Rosenbloom. The feature basically offers the when and where of trip logistics. “Think of Destinations as your basic Crayola crayon box; it is not aimed at those who want Magic Mint.” 

But that’s all it’s meant to do, says Google. 

Destinations wants to make it easy for mobile users to brainstorm their next vacation while on the bus to work – and in that, it may be successful. 

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