Seems like travel functionality is a trending topic in search engine design: Google's testing intelligently-created City Tours. Meanwhile Bing Travel, which we wrote about recently, is in trouble over an alleged plagiaristic UI.
The City Tours feature is still a Google Labs project, so it's not fully fleshed-out yet, but it's extraordinarily easy to use. You simply set a destination, and the system calculates a three-day itinerary for you, using Google maps and search results to populate it. I tested it out for the city nearest me, Lisbon in Portugal, and the day one result is shown above.
Actually not a bad tour around the city, from my local knowledge. Google does seem to like suggesting museums, which it seems you're always supposed to spend an hour in. But the choices are all pretty good--the Carmo ruin museum is stunning. Day two involved a stroll along the river to the coach museum, which is nice, although Google ignores the incredibly famous cake shop just a hundred meters away, and expects you to follow the following action for one leg of the journey: "walk about 140 minutes." It also missed out a visit to the rather stunning castle.
Still, it's easy to add and remove suggested attractions via a simple search list interface, and you can adjust both the number of days the tour covers and the starting date. This last bit is interesting: Google isn't just randomly creating these itineraries, as different dates create different tour routes. Results are partially based on the opening dates of the different sites--which you can access via a quick click--and partially based on Google's own search engine voodoo, I suspect.
So, it's not perfect, but it's still experimental--and by the time it becomes a full Google product I suspect it'll be a very useful travel tour guide, at least enough to get traditional city guide book makers worried. But at least Google's not in hot water over City Tours, as Microsoft is with Bing Travel. We also checked out this travel guide recently, and gave it a tentative thumbs-up. But check out the image below, showing Bing Travel alongside established travel search engine Kayak.
Looks pretty similar doesn't it? Right down to the slider bar for the search parameters. It's close enough that Kayak's management has opened up a dialogue with Microsoft--one suspects that the dialogue is rather heated, though Kayak's chief of marketing, Robert Birge, only said, "from the look and feel of their travel product, they seem to agree with our approach to the market." Microsoft says it's in discussions with Kayak, but countered with a version of Bing Travel's development history and the wonderful line "any contrary allegations are without merit." That's MS remaining true to its monolithic bullying business identity. That's definitely interesting, since the clear similarity of Kayak to Bing would suggest MS doesn't have a leg to stand on.