Despite the purchase of ITA, Google has yet to delve deeply into travel features beyond some basic flight info. However, their most recently experimental tool, the Google Hotel Finder, may signify the beginning of the search giant's push into this niche.
What the Google Hotel Finder Is & How It's Different
With Google's recent trend to cut away all the unnecessary extra projects, releasing a new experiment means one of two things: an exception to the "only serious projects" rule, or that this is, in fact, a serious project. Certainly, Google has loaded their hotel finder with enough features that it can't be taken lightly.
What features? Let's start with the standard niceties.
Google made it easy to search for hotels (you just plug in a location name and ZIP code), and from there it's simple to thumb through the results. Each hotel page creates a collage of vital data that can be digested at a glance, and you can even use shortcut keys to flip back and forth between hotels. When you find a hotel you like, you can add it to a "shortlist" for easy access and comparison later on.
Then we have deep integration with Google Places. Images, reviews, rates, and key information for each hotel is imported automatically from Places to the Hotel Finder. Those who are promoting a hotel should pay special note: You optimize for Hotel Finder by optimizing for Places.
And last, and in fact best, we have the visual map. Take a quick look:
All the areas with the white highlights are popular tourist attractions, and the blue lines around them are automatically generated by Google. Your hotels are then pulled based on how conveniently they let you access said attractions.
Don't want to visit all the places tourists like? Or do you want to visit extra places? In either case, you can extend the blue lines to cover whatever area you please.
For the time being, Hotel Finder is available only for U.S. cities.
Fighting for the Travel Niche
OK, so the tool is pretty neat, but why is this tool important?
The simple answer is that this may be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to travel search features. While Google Places has built some nice travel-oriented features into its framework and you can pull flight schedules directly from the Google SERP, Google really hasn't done a lot when it comes to travel.
Bing, on the other hand, has. Since its release, Bing has targeted just a few choice area, with travel topping the list. If this hotel finder is really a serious project, it indicates that Google is ready to step up its game – and that likely means an airliner full of travel-oriented extras from Google in the coming months.