Google is adding features that will allow users to plan vacations more confidently around coronavirus restrictions.
The new tools – which debuted in the United States and United Kingdom, in markets that have seen “more searches for places to go on vacation” – feature added pandemic-related information on destinations, flights, and hotels when researching and booking travel.
“When you search on Google for information like hotels, flights or things to do, you already see when there’s a COVID-19 travel advisory or restriction for your destination,” Google’s vice president of product management and travel, Richard Holden, said in a blog post.
“And, we recently introduced driving alerts to notify you about COVID-19 checkpoints and restrictions along your route in Google Maps. As restrictions and advisories begin to lift, we’re adding information about travel resuming in a specific destination on Google Search.”
Holden said this will include seeing the percentage of open hotels with availability and flights operating at the city or county level based on Google Flights and Hotels data from the previous week.
When travellers in the US or UK visit google.com/travel and tap on a trip they’re planning, or search for hotels and things to do, they’ll now see trendlines for hotel and flight availability.
Links to additional local resources, including the number of COVID-19 cases, are provided as well.
In addition, Google is also adding the ability to find hotels and vacation rentals with refundable rates.
“The uncertainty of COVID-19 makes it hard to navigate travel decisions,” Holden said.
“We’ll continue to share the most relevant information so you can make informed decisions and travel safely when the time comes.”
The news comes as Google quietly introduced its own prioritised advertising business, launching into the tours and activities space – under its new “things to do” advertising unit – with attractions from the likes of Viator, GetYourGuide, and Tiqets.
According to Skift, the advertising box appears atop the Google search results page or screen higher than other paid ads and free search engine results, and features tours and suppliers listed in “initial search results for each”.
It also comes amid allegations, again reported by Skift, that the multinational American technology company is barring new advertising for non-payment of advertising bills by travel advertisers, among which are German startups GetYourGuide and Trivago, who have publicly called on Google to cease its bill collection efforts for first-quarter advertising services.
The two companies are among eight who are believed to be considering applying for German government relief payments that are geared towards keeping staff on payroll, with the group calling for Google to pause collection efforts for companies set to receive tax-payer funded assistance.
“Many businesses are now seeking government liquidity to remain solvent,” the German Startups Association said in a letter addressed to Google.
“Unless greater flexibility is exercised by Google, many of its advertising partners will be forced to use government loans to pay their debts. Badly-needed funding will flow into Google’s coffers on the backs of taxpayers in Germany and around the world.”
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