The process of booking a holiday, as some of you may know is a horrendously stressful experience. Trying to manage everyone’s preferences, budgets, dates and hotel standards along with navigating some of the worst designed websites on the internet (I’m looking at you, booking.com) is sure enough to make you need an extra holiday before the one you’re actually planning to book.
Fear not, one amazing tool that I discovered last year was able to remove the majority of this stress in one fell swoop. I am referring to Google’s Hotel finder. In short, this will be the most useful web application you will need when booking your next holiday. Read on to find out just how powerful it is and how I was able to tailor a holiday specifically for us, from the thousands on offer.
A little over a year ago, I was organising a summer holiday to somewhere in Europe with Elly. We didn’t know where exactly we wanted to go, we just knew when. Our birthdays fall at the end of May and beginning of June, so we wanted to go somewhere in between the two dates. We weren’t overly sure if we wanted a city break, somewhere by the beach, or somewhere completely remote. In the end, we settled on Barcelona which seems to offer a slice of all three of those options in one neat little package! This year, we are going to Paris and Google has been paramount in our planning.
Planning a Holiday
When planning a holiday, there are two main things that need to be thought about:
– Where to stay
– How to get there
Unfortunately, both of these things need to be decided pretty much at once, as transport and accommodation dates along with availability can severely influence your budget for better or worse. I will explain how the Hotel Finder made this whole process very easy and very manageable.
Google Hotel Finder
When you first visit the hotel finder, you are presented with a simple interface for you to input the city you’re planning on visiting along with the dates you’d like to stay (don’t worry too much about having an exact date in mind, variances in price are available for you to see).
When searching for Paris in the latter weeks of May, you are presented with a list of 2493 hotels and a map pinpointing all of their locations. At the top of the screen, there are some controls which you can manage that allow you to filter the hotels by price, hotel class, user rating, amenities and location. Each one of these controls is extremely powerful and accurate allowing you to narrow down your search to something a little more manageable.
You can filter the results down to pricing bands such as ‘Up to £150’ per night or by selecting a specific range. By using the preset £150/night filter, my results are reduced down to 1158 hotels. But, that list contains anything up to £150. Including the grotty hostels with all the riff raff. I personally preferred to use the specific range to set a budget exactly within the range that I am comfortable with. If I change this to £70-140, my results are reduced to 708. That’s a vast improvement on the original number, but we’ve still got a long way to go.
When I go on holiday, I like to stay somewhere that’s generally much nicer than the home that I already live in. I feel that’s one of the primary points to going on holiday. If it means that I have to spend more, then I’ll just have to work harder to get there. You get what you pay for, in price and relaxation rewards. That being said, I would like my hotel to be 3 stars or better, thank you. My results… 430 hotels.
I know that the internet is often an unkind place for people’s words on their opinion. Commonly, those opinions have had little to no calculation involved and can throw your blind opinion of something out the window. When filtering my hotel results by user’s reviews, I like to give the hotel the benefit of the doubt, and search for a healthy 3.5 stars or better out of 5. My results now lists 145 hotels.
I’m personally not too fussed about the extra facilities that a hotel has to offer, other than perhaps a decent bar and depending on the location; a pool. Internet, I suppose is a good thing to search for, but to put it in perspective there are only 6 hotels in my results that don’t have internet access. Free internet access would reduce my results almost in half to 85, but for the moment, I’d rather not rule these potential hotels out. There are some careful considerations for all types of people in the list of amenities to choose from though. For example, a business traveller may want to have a laundry service or perhaps a business centre. Or maybe someone in a wheelchair will need to search for hotels with complete accessibility throughout? Either way, the amenities control is where you’ll really personalise your hotel choice.
By far the most powerful aspect of this search is utilising the immense power of Google Maps to narrow down your selection. You may or may not have an idea of what area of a particular location you want to stay in. By having the map constantly visible, you are able to see the clustered areas of hotels and investigate them further. You can filter your search to predefined boundaries such as the City Centre or existing boroughs.
It’s highly likely that you’ll be unfamiliar with any of the boroughs or even recognise any names, so — quite handily — on hover, a section appears on the map highlighting the borough’s boundaries and enables you to visualise your search along with a short description of the area and a photo of a famous landmark there. You can even draw your own boundaries if you have a particular interest in a certain location! North of the river… 46 hotels.
Viewing the hotels
Now that the selection of hotels to view has been whittled down to just 46, let’s actually view them. From within the list of results or from the pins on the map, you can click onto any hotel and view more information about it. You can see a gallery of photos (sometimes even an indoor interactive map!), reviews from other users, all of their amenities, a smaller map in street view mode and of course the ability to see the nightly rates from many booking agents such as booking.com, and Expedia etc.
All of this data, is pulled in from various sources around the internet such as Google Places, the Hotel’s own website and the booking agents listing the availabilities. The greatest part of this whole search is that everything is designed so well that you don’t really need to go anywhere else for more information. By viewing every possible hotel in the Google Hotel Finder, it means that you can be very quick and consistent in your judgement, as you won’t need to learn a new website every time you click a link.
As a bonus, you can save your favourite hotels to a shortlist for later comparisons and really narrow down your selection. This isn’t just a shortlist saved to your user account either, it’s saved on a city-by-city basis, meaning that you can search other cities and have a clear slate as well as return to previously visited cities a few months later and visit other suitable hotels. If you travel to the same place regularly, you’ll be able to explore different places much more easily without the stress of searching all over again.
Remember earlier when I said it didn’t matter if you knew the exact dates that you would be travelling? The reason being, you can view the average cost of accommodation for either the city or a particular hotel on a neat little graph allowing you to truly narrow down to your budget. Awesome.
Booking your hotel
As you might have guessed, you can book your hotel nice and easily by clicking one of the pricing links to whichever partner company you choose upon and be directed straight to their booking page with the dates and prices you’ve agreed to. The only problem now is that you have to use their awful website for completing the booking and making a payment. I’m still looking at you, booking.com.
The Google Hotel finder truly is a masterclass in great user experience design. I’ve used it successfully for two holidays now and won’t look anywhere else in the future. I’ve been telling nearly everyone I talk to about it, as I seriously think it will reduce the stress of booking a holiday immeasurably.
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If you’re looking for even more, Google also has a Flight search application located right next to the Hotel finder. It too is unquestionably extremely useful, even if you’re just curious to see the prices of flights fluctuating over a year on a graph, but that’s a whole other case study.
If you’ve found the Google Hotel finder to be useful, let me know in the comments! If you’ve never heard of it until now, give it a go and see how amazing it is!