Google is simply everywhere these days. Its search engine is the de facto choice for finding just about anything online. And if you use the company’s email service, Gmail, there’s a good chance that you’ve been roped into using other Google services, too. Perhaps you keep your calendar there. You might even get your driving directions from Google Maps. And if you own a smartphone, you might even be using the company’s mobile operating system, Android.
And Android is packed with even more Google stuff.
But Google’s been traveling down another path recently that’s pretty tough to ignore — especially if you happen to travel a lot yourself. In recent years, Google has been looking at ways it can gain a foothold in the travel industry. And even more recently, the company has taken steps to make itself more friendly to those who travel, whether for leisure or for business.
In fact, Google announced this week that the first large hotel chain, Choice Hotels International, is participating in “Book on Google,” enabling travelers to reserve and pay for a hotel room without leaving the Google site.
Google has made several inroads with its travel ambitions, and continues to wiggle its way into this already-crowded space. Here are six under-the-radar moves the search giant has made that will have big effects on the traveler’s journey moving forward.
1. Gmail Plays a Very Big Role
Google has a pretty big audience that it knows a lot about, and can spring new features on at any given moment. They’re Gmail users — those who trust their private email accounts to the Google machine.
You might have noticed if you’ve booked travel recently that Google now groups all your travel-related emails together. And using that data, the company is create an itinerary of sorts to help you keep things straight. If your confirmations come into your Gmail account, Google knows the departures and arrivals of your flights, the days you have your hotel booked, and more.
And you’ll undoubtedly see Google do more with this information as it expands its travel offerings in the future.
2. Google Flights Makes Finding Cheap Flights Easy
Another facet of Google’s travel push is Google Flights. From the outside, it looks like a pretty no-frills system. And it seems to work just like any other travel site. You input the dates you want, and Google tries to find you a suitable flight based on your needs and your budget.
But Google Flights does away with a lot of the bloat that other travel sites suffer from. And even more, Google Flights makes it extremely simple to find the cheapest flight possible by showing you a calendar with the lowest-price flights. So if leaving a day early saves you a few hundred bucks, you don’t have to toy with confusing menus to see that information. Google Flights puts it right in front of you.
Making something easier to use is such a typical Google thing to do. And the company is hoping you’ll switch to using Google Flights permanently as a result.
3. Hotels Now Appear in Google and Google Maps
Once upon a time, you’d search Google to find a travel site or hotel chain website. And then you’d get down to the business of checking the prices for your selected dates. But Google, using its power as the world’s largest search engine, has found a way to keep you from doing that.
Google now puts hotel prices and links to book them directly in the search results.
On top of that, Google now has hotels show up right inside Google Maps, too. So if you’re stuck overnight in a strange place and you need to find a hotel fast, you can pull up the Google Maps website and quickly see nearby hotels and their rates.
It’s a move that’ll likely hurt traffic to other major travel sites. But it’ll be a huge boon to Google’s travel initiatives.
4. Google Street View Gives You an Early Look
Google Street View is a marvel. It sounds crazy but, yes, Google actually has cars crisscrossing the world, taking 360-degree photos of streets and landmark locations. And those photos later end up in Google Maps, where the Street View feature can put you right on the ground in a place you’ve never been before.
Why is this useful? It helps you get to know a place before you arrive. That strange city you’re visiting can become at least somewhat familiar to you. You can find a street and locate the hotel you’re staying in, or the venue you’ll be going to, and have a better sense of direction for when your own two feet are firmly planted there.
With VR moving toward the mainstream, you can be certain Google will take Street View to a whole new level sometime in the future. And it’ll be a big help for travelers.
5. Touring Bird is Your Own Personal Travel Guide
Just how much does Google want to get into the travel industry? So much that the company’s experimental wing recently launched an entirely new service built around helping people find things to do in brand new places.
Touring Bird is, at its core, a travel tool. But it’s not intended to help you find cheap flights or low-cost hotel options. Instead, its sole mission is to guide you toward free activities in whatever city you’re planning to visit. So the next time business whisks you away into a city you’ve never been to before, check out Touring Bird and you’ll find ways to eliminate some of your downtime.
6. Google Trips Pulls It All Together
There may be no clearer indicator of Google’s intentions than Google Trips. It’s a mobile app that, someday, could be the centerpiece to everything Google wants to do in travel. When you open it, you can find things to do nearby. You can start putting together a brand new adventure with the app’s help, too. And if you’ve already booked a getaway — and that information is sitting inside Gmail — Google Trips can pull up all of your reservations and confirmation numbers.
Can it do everything yet? Well, not quite. It can’t give you a full breakdown of social activity in your chosen area: you’re best served heading to Meetups for that. And if you’re an aspiring work-from-anywhere entrepreneur, it won’t help you supplement your income in your selected vacation location: Exchange showcases some local businesses for sale if that’s your intention. But it’s probably just a matter of time before Google Trips merges with other Google Services (possibly to become Google Everything), so we’ll see.
To sum up, there’s no denying that Google wants a piece of that travel pie. Don’t be surprised when it makes a move for the rest of the pie in the near future!