Last week, Google announced a new version of Google Maps that, among other things, revamps their directions interface and adds flight search to the product. At the time, the leading travel industry news site Tnooz reported that the improvements could out-Rome2Rio Rome2Rio. Having now gained access to a preview of the new product, we are confident this is not the case. Google Maps is a wildly successful product that provides incredibly useful functionality for a variety of tasks, but it is not a travel search product. Rome2rio continues to offer a variety of advantages when it comes to multi-modal travel search and planning.
Let’s walk through the various areas where Rome2rio continues to offer unique functionality for travel search:
Multi-modal, door-to-door search
Google Maps remains limited to search results that utilize one mode of transport at a time. It does not provide itineraries that combine multiple modes of transport, such as a train journey, followed by a flight, followed by a taxi trip. Rome2rio, on the other hand, aims to provide a comprehensive set of all available options for getting from A to B by combining various modes of transport.
To illustrate, consider an example search from San Francisco to Whistler. Rome2rio (left) suggests flying from San Francisco airport to Vancouver airport, then taking a train and shuttle bus, or hire car, to the ski resort. Rome2rio also provides a handful of alternative air-surface itineraries, as well as lengthy train & bus and drive the whole way options. The new Google Maps (right) simply suggests driving for 16 hours to reach Whistler.
Train, bus and ferry coverage
Rome2rio continues to offer far broader coverage of inter-city train, bus and ferry routes than Google Maps. Our transport database covers over 1,700 operators and continues to grow rapidly thanks to the tireless efforts of our content manager and his team of data researchers. Google’s transport coverage remains mostly limited to urban transit, although they added German Railways routes last year.
To illustrate, consider an example search from Ghent, Belgium to Hvar, Croatia. Rome2rio’s top result involves taking the train from Ghent to Brussels airport, flying to Split airport, a bus or taxi to the ferry terminal, then a ferry to Hvar. Since Google Maps is not multi-modal, it suggests driving for 17 hours instead. Even if we manually break the journey up, Google Map’s transport coverage is limited. Google suggests a complex 4 hour, four-hop tram and bus journey from Ghent to Brussels airport rather than a direct 1 hour train trip, and knows nothing about the bus services from Split airport to Split. Google does display the ferry route from Split to Hvar but gives an inaccurate journey time and no information about who operates the ferry, how often it runs, and where to go for more information.
Earlier this year we launched complete, door-to-door indicative pricing on Rome2rio. It was a major task collecting pricing information for so many transport operators across the globe. The feature was well received by both the industry and our users, and we saw a 25% increase in average time on site when it was launched. Perhaps this is not surprising, given that price is an important factor when deciding between travel options and modes of transport. Importantly, Rome2rio’s pricing is comprehensive; almost every single transport operator in our database is covered.
Google Maps displays prices for a small number of transport operators who have integrated pricing data into their GTFS feeds. Unlike Rome2rio, prices (even estimated fares) are not displayed for the majority of train, bus and ferry routes. No taxi or fuel estimates are provided. The new flight search integration does include estimated prices, however.
Google has finally added flights to Google Maps, which was unsurprisingly a frequently requested feature. While this is a great first step, there’s clearly plenty to be improved with this integration. Google Maps shows flights between a single pair of airports near your origin and destination. An indicative price, abbreviated list of airlines and flight time are presented with a link to Google Flights for more information. Rome2rio, on the other hand, shows multiple flight options from various airports near your origin and destination as well as directions to and from those airports. Rome2rio also integrates the display of full flight itineraries. Check out this example search from San Francisco to Tulsa which highlights the differences.
At its core, Google Maps is a mapping product, not a travel search product. This affects how it is branded, how it is marketed, and how the user interface works. Rome2rio greets the user with travel pictures, FROM and TO input boxes, and example destinations. Rome2rio’s UI is focused entirely on multi-modal travel search. Google Maps greets users with a single search box and offers a vast array of features beyond transport directions. On this front, Rome2rio’s interface continues to have the edge over Google Maps for the specific task of inter-city travel planning.
Comparisons to Rome2rio aside, the new version of Google Maps is indeed a slick revision of an already polished, sophisticated and immensely popular product. We would not be surprised to see the Google Maps team focus on improving the product for travel search by expanding inter-city coverage and offering true multi-modal, door-to-door, travel search results within the next few years. In the meantime we will continue to focus on improving Rome2rio’s search accuracy and transport coverage to stay a few steps ahead of this very formidable competitor.