Google Hotel Finder: Impressive but Not Flawless
Bing Travel now has competition. Google has launched its newest metasearch service, the Google Hotel Finder. Bringing together existing technologies and services, and with an easy to use interface, Google Hotel Finder promises to give the biggies of the hotel search and compare segment a run for their money. Basically a marriage of Google Maps, Places, and Shopping, there are some interesting ideas here, and while it may be too early to tell how this will shape up with increasing number of participating hotels and more user activity, the user interface can use a couple of fixes.
Termed officially as an experiment, the Google Hotel Finder interface resembles most of the Google offerings, minimalistic and neat. Once you key in a destination, it gives you a list of hotels with their category, tariff, user ratings, comparison and a small Google Map which you can use to refine your search graphically. One of the interesting things about this feature is that you have a drawing tool that you can use to narrow down search areas. What differentiates this aspect of refining search from other similar offerings is the fact that you can use more than one shape, effectively using more than one location filter simultaneously. Just wish you could also do that with the price filter, though.
The left hand sidebar also comes with preloaded dates which you can adjust. There are sliders too for price and user ratings. The sliders are real time, and you will see the results flit out or in as you are moving the slider. You can use the map view, refine your search with the drawing tool and either click on the hotel you want to see more details, one at a time, or go back to the list view which will give you the same results in a list form with headers. The details include photos, Google user reviews, reviews from other review sites, prices and an option to book. The details panel also offers you a link to the hotel website, something that sets Google Hotel Finder apart from the other hotel search sites. You can add the hotel to a shortlist for later use, both from the details in the map view and the list view. Google Hotel Finder lets you keep the details window open while you continue with your search on the rest of the page, something that definitely will be liked by the users.
When you click on Book, you get a choice of almost all the popular online hotel booking services in the form of ads. You can choose the one you want and will be taken to their portal to complete your booking. The Compare feature lets you look at how the prices for the days you have selected as compared with the average prices for that hotel for the last one year. Bing Travel has a similar Deal/Average/Not-A-Deal feature, and this one is just a percentage based variation of that. One wonders how useful this would be for making purchase decisions though. It seems to have been put in just to match other metasearch sites feature-for-feature.
On the downside, the interface does not give you a way to search for a hotel by name. You still have to use the other features, get the hotel on your results and then view it. The drawing tool and the Google maps overlay is difficult to handle even for users accustomed to both these features. Google Hotel Finder, as of now is enabled for the United States only, effectively precluding travelers searching for other destinations from using it beyond an experiment.
It is too early to tell whether Google Hotel Finder will create a significant impact on other travel offerings, but it does shake things up a little, especially given Google’s huge user base, and user generated content in the form of reviews and ratings. The new twist with the maps and drawing tools and the ease of navigation more than amply compensates for the simple Google look and feel. While this offering will certainly be seeing upgrades and fixes in the coming weeks and months, it will also get the other services to wake up and smell the coffee.
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