Google Hotel Finder (Experiment)

As far as experiments go, Google Hotel Finder (Experiment) is a successful one, but don’t expect it to shake up online travel booking any time soon. Hotel Finder highlights popular areas using a Google Map overlay; however, compared to Hipmunk’s heatmap layers, that illumination doesn’t shed much light on a city. As with Bing Travel, Google’s Hotel Finder shows you how today’s price compares to the typical tally—only instead of color-coding deals, Hotel Finder uses a slider. And because it prowls the same basic sites as the competition, results are largely redundant. Google’s key innovation is a drawing tool through which users can craft shapes over cities to define the parameters of their search: It’s a fun idea, but in practice it’s more gimmick than innovation. None of this stops Google Hotel Finder from being a pleasant way to search for hotels. However, for the time being, this flightless experiment lacks the tools and innovations to lift it above the competition.

Connected Traveler

What’s Your Shape?
It all starts with a destination. This can be a city name—Google proposes options as you type), a zip code, or even a neighborhood (e.g. Gramercy, New York). Beginning with the stunningly general “New York, NY” I received a list of results and a small Google Map with somewhat triangular shape (Google’s figure uses four points) over Manhattan. From here you can continue searching from the list view, tailoring your dates, price, hotel class, and user rating, or you can edit your shape on a Google Map to visually define the limits of your search.

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Location, Location, Location

Hotels Visualized

Google Places Reviews

Impressive Imagery

This sounded like a better idea than it was. The issue is in finding the right view. In the case of a Manhattan search, I wanted to narrow to just a few neighborhoods, but pulling in the four points required me to work from a distant zoom. Tightening the shape of my figure (I eventually settled on an arrow) required a lot of panning in and out in order to find my neighborhoods. For less densely populated cities, though, this ought to be less of an issue.

There are two smart things about shapes. First, you can have more than one. This means that I can really target my search with one shape over, say, Gramercy, and another over Tribeca. Second, Google highlights the most popular areas of a city (less popular sections are cast in the shadows). In an already popular city such as New York, a Hotel Finder’s popularity filter does little to help you plan your trip. I wish, instead, that Google mimicked Hipmunk’s more specific—and useful—overlays: “food,” “tourism,” “shopping,” “nightlife,” and the deliciously-titled “vice.”

Filtering Results
You can work from a Google Map or list view, though I found myself using the list because of its sortable headers. It’s easy to change check-in and check-out dates, set a price range, or pare back results based upon hotel class (1-5 stars) or user rating, courtesy of Google Places. In my star-shaped search of lower Manhattan, I began with 24 hotels. These results could be saved for later or booked through a variety of partners including,,,,,,,,, and official hotel websites.

Breadth aside, price will probably be the main priority for most Hotel Finder customers. While results were largely the same with Bing Travel and Hipmunk, Hotel Finder does have some useful filtering options. In addition to pulling out hotels without prices (I had 10 hotels that returned without booking information, thanks to Google’s own searches) you can also trim results based upon how they compare to their usual costs. By default, Hotel Finder retrieves everything, but users can control deals through a slider that ranges from “Any” (all prices) to “Typical” (no discount) to “50% less” (half off). As you start scrolling, hotels start vanishing. Of my 24 results, 2 disappeared when I moved the slider to “Typical.” When I scrolled to about 25 percent, I was down to 4 options. At 50 percent, I had a clean slate.

While I commend the slider-based approach for its simplicity, I’d like to have the option to compare low, medium, and high priced hotels simultaneously. Bing Travel’s color-coded tags are particularly useful. Meanwhile, Hipmunk’s “Ecstasy” system, which color-codes results based upon a combination of variables (including price, user reviews, and amenities) strikes me as the most thoughtful solution.

Just Another Search Tool—For Now
Google Hotel Finder is entirely functional, but, for the time being, I don’t see anything that ought to give other online travel sites the jitters. The shape-based searching is cool conceptually, but less cool empirically. Despite the intuitiveness of highlighting popular areas, as long as you don’t know why areas are popular—and with whom they’re popular—light doesn’t shed light. Finally, despite all the concerns about Google’s acquisition of ITA, what is available today is hotel-specific and comparable in scope to existing services. Give it a try—there’s no reason not to—but don’t forget the excellent alternatives, Bing Travel and Hipmunk.

More Education and Reference Software:
•   Google Hotel Finder (Experiment)
•   Locavore (for iPhone)
•   Biblion: The Boundless Library (for iPad)
• (for iPhone)
•  more

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