Online travel planners research. Part 3. Fancy apps

Table of Contents

Part 1. Inspirock + its official response with my comments
Part 2.
Part 3. Fancy apps: Sygic Travel, Blink (Tinder for Sightseeing), Google Trips (then: Google Travel)
Part 4.
Underdogs of online travel planning: Roadtrippers, Tripplannera, TripFactory
Part 5.
Utrip: the two-headed monster
Part 6.
Part 7.
Overall conclusion

There are services that exist as mobile apps only. They have websites that mostly feature links to download an app. Do their developers suggest that people would use them only when they are already on their way? That may explain why none of them actually suggests itineraries with places to visit.

3.1. Sygic Travel

Founded: 2011
Social following: 20K on Facebook
TrustScore: N/A

3.1.1. TL;DR

Broadness of possible request - 0/2
Quality of suggestions - 2/5
Quantity of suggestions - 3/3
Real use of preferences - 1/3
Routing and transportation - 4/5
Eating out - 0/3
Absence of other bugs (duplicates, etc.) - 3/5
Variety of free functions - 1/2
UX (predictability, smoothness, etc.) - 2/5
TOTAL - 48,5% good
  • The first surprise that Sygic Travel takes language from the settings of your phone. To share screenshots in English I was forced to change my settings,
Moscow Oblast (aka Moscow region) is associated with some equipment by the app.
  • The next surprise came with choosing the city. There were 2 Moscows and 2 Russian Saint Petersburgs. I was unable to get the difference or a reason for this variety,
  • When you choose the city the duration of the trip is 1 night by default. I didn’t get the point initially: by giving no suggestions here the app tells you not to wait for any suggestions (except the list of attractions that you can find anywhere),
  • When you enter your dates you come to the default screen of a trip. You have to mark all the sights and activities yourself. To add sights you can use either a map or a list called Places.
The bug with background picture is of my screenshot taking app, not Sygic’s one.
  • Moreover, if you want to add a place to your trip you have to choose a day for it. The sectors of a circle probably mean the time the app suggests you spend on activities every day. The full circle is 24 hours,
  • Of course, I couldn’t go without overloading it. My day was packed with 26 hours of activities but the app didn’t suggest changing anything.
The arrow in the right part of the screen is not clickable. I didn’t get to know what does it mean.
  • I generally liked the process of filling the route via the map. You just add a place, the map is centered at it and if it is densely packed city center — there will be options to choose for more. If not — you can change the scale of the map.
    Problem #1 — the detailed information about the place is available only to premium users,
  • And by the way, it is not always correct. The place for the object from the above screenshot is correct but the picture is wrong. It is another building of the same architect (Lev Kekushev), that builiding has no picture in the app.
  • Problem #2 — using only the map you mostly see the closest places, not the most relevant. Thus Places should become the primary option for planning.
    There are filters for a long list of attractions but they work a strange way. Filters include 10 categories and hundreds of tags. When you choose a category — the list of tags squeezes and only tags relevant to that category are shown. But not right away — you first are sent to the filtered list of places and if you click on filters again — you will see relevant tags. When I first chose Sightseeing and clicked on filters again the tag I was suggested first was… my favorite Hidden Gems! If you read previous parts of the research you understand what I mean.

Unfortunately, when I decided to see hidden gems in all categories, there came disappointment. I deleted my choice of Sightseeing and Hidden Gems were deleted too. I could find them in a long list of tags with my eyes but it would take much time: tags are sorted only by popularity rather than by alphabet. The only available search gave no relevant results. Not user-friendly.

If you search for “Hidden Gem” the result will be similar.

All in all, there was a place (Alexander Garden — or Gardens?) of Outdoor category after I chose Sightseeing + Hidden Gems. So the filters didn’t work correctly. I can’t prove that with a screenshot as exact chosen filters are not shown right in the filtered list — you see only “Filters active”.

By the way, that Kazan Cathedral with description in Russian is situated at Red Square.
  • As you can see from the above screenshot, places that have been added to the route are checked. But this feature works confusingly: when you are back after adding a place it is not checked unless you go back to the default trip screen and enter Places again,
  • The sequencing is rather good but not optimal. When you ask the app to build the itinerary for places you added for a day, it really tries to build the best route (not always successfully). The problem of visiting the same places at different days is your responsibility as it is you who choose the exact day for the attraction rather than the app.
  • You can choose which transport to use for getting from one place to another. But for public transport, the duration of the transfer is not supported.
  • When you first look at the itinerary you don’t see how much time it is supposed to spend at each place. You can only see it if you click at the place and choose “Set time”. The minimal default duration is 30 minutes but you can set it to as low as 5 minutes. After saving changes the time for the attraction is now shown at the itinerary.
  • You can only guess whether the app suggests entering the place or observing it outside. The app seems not to sell entrance tickets so the only hint I found is the duration: if there are 2 hours for a museum then the suggestion is probably to enter rather than to look at it outside. But when it comes to churches with default 30 minutes I am confused.
  • The common problem of multilevel objects is not addressed. For example, I anyway am to visit Red Square while rambling around its attractions of different sides. But the app suggests me to choose Red Square as a separate attraction (2nd in the overall list of places).

Conclusion: Sygic Travel is useful and helpful when you are already at the place and limited in time. But the only its suggestion is the route for places you chose yourself. All other aspects of preparation for the trip are without suggestion. And you possibly will not use Sygic for preparation as there are plenty of places where you can get information for free, not paying for the premium account.

3.2. Blink Travel Guide — “Tinder for Sightseeing”

Founded: 2017
Social following: doesn’t feature official groups or accounts
TrustScore: N/A

3.2.1. TL;DR

Broadness of possible request - 0/2
Quality of suggestions - 1/5
Quantity of suggestions - 1/3
Real use of preferences - N/A
Routing and transportation - N/A
Eating out - 0/3
Absence of other bugs (duplicates, etc.) - 2/5
Variety of free functions - 1/2
UX (predictability, smoothness, etc.) - 2/5
TOTAL - 35% good

This app was advertised as “Tinder for sightseeing”. It suggests attractions to you and by using the well-known mechanics you decide whether there is a match between you and a place or not. If yes — you like the place and it falls into Saved places list. But is it really that way? Let’s see.

What is the largest city that is not listed here? Bangalore? Bangkok? Beijing? Or Bay Area region (as long as the whole island of Bali is listed)?
  • When you start browsing available destinations and see only 2 cities starting with A — the conclusion is obvious. Moreover, Countries (Thailand), regions (Bali, Loire Valley) and cities are mixed into one list. If you enter Chiang Mai in Destinations search — you will get nothing. However, the attractions of the city are suggested when you enter Thailand.
  • I failed to find any way to login other than Facebook. Is it because Tinder also requires Facebook? I could agree 2 years ago that Facebook was the best default choice but with all that scandals and movements to delete Facebook that notion no longer seems reasonable. And the app was released right at that time. If you don’t have any of Facebook apps on your phone (like me) you will have to type login and password manually. Sorry, the app couldn’t get this data from your default browser.
  • The list of places is also very narrow (at least for Moscow). That is how all that Blink has for Moscow looks at the map:
What do you see is not listed here: Kremlin in Izmaylovo? Ostankino Tower?
  • It’s no surprise the app soon started showing me places that I have recently liked,
  • It is made and promoted as Tinder-like, but swiping right is not considered liking a place. And if you actually tap on a heart icon it doesn’t make the next suggestion appear on your screen. After liking you have to swipe it manually,
  • When I opened the app the other day it started suggesting me some places that I had already saved for the trip, but not marking the heart the way it normally does for saved places,
  • Did I mention a mistake in pictures? The pictures look curated (they are not the most popular and easiest to get), somebody (or some algorithm) spent some effort to choose the best ones. But the first picture for Moscow Seven Sisters is wrong. That’s Wrigley Building in Chicago that (along with Manhattan Municipal Building and other art deco buildings) served as the inspiration for Moscow skyscrapers.
You may notice lots of American flags in the bottom of the picture.
  • The suggested coordinates of the Moscow Metro was also wrong. For some reasons, it was placed at the border of the city where no metro stations have ever existed. The same for Diamond Fund — in some outskirts rather than inside Kremlin.
  • If you start to plan another destination the map adjusts to your choice but Saved and Visited places in your profiles don’t. And there are no scale icons for the map. You can adjust the scale with your fingers but I failed to make it nation-wide and see all suggestion for Thailand (like I had done for Moscow).
  • Finally, how can you get the itinerary for all you have chosen? Should you reach a certain number of saved places for that? I liked all I had been suggested for Moscow and still didn’t get any itinerary.
  • Is it because there is no monetization in the app? At least I failed to find any. No tours, no bookings, etc. that you see everywhere.

Conclusion: their website promotes “featuring unique places” but I failed to see them. Few destinations, few places there, no suggestions based on your preferences.
Swipe left.

3.3. Google Trips

Founded: 2016
Social following: doesn’t feature official groups or accounts (the introduction video was watched 3,6M times)
TrustScore: N/A

Google announced the closure of Google Trips after the research had been initially published. Go to Google Travel section if you want to know how functions of Google Trips will be supported after its closure.

3.3.1. TL;DR

Broadness of possible request - 0/2
Quality of suggestions - 3/5
Quantity of suggestions - 3/3
Real use of preferences - 1/3
Routing and transportation - 2/5
Eating out - 0/3
Absence of other bugs (duplicates, etc.) - 3/5
Variety of free functions - 2/2
UX (predictability, smoothness, etc.) - 2/5
TOTAL - 48,5% good

Here is the biggest monster of this Part. Or even of the whole reserach. As Konstantin Kalabin pointed at one of his speeches, Google already has greater revenue from its travel business than any travel corporation in the world.

We know about Google’s “Mobile first” concept and for its travel service, Google follows “Mobile only” rule. What the knowing-everything-about-us corporation has about itinerary making?

  • You actually don’t have to install the app on your phone. It’s an instant app, you can try it on-the-go.
  • But if you use Gmail and install the app you may be impressed (like I was) — the system quickly analyzes all the bookings at your Inbox (not only accommodation and flights but also car rentals) and lists all your forthcoming and past trips for 5 years (and some more). But you shouldn’t count that every reservation is there — at least one and most Airbnb reservations of mine were absent.
  • The app takes not only your reservations from Gmail but also of other people even with other surnames — if you just happen to have their tickets there. Some multi-national trips are grouped but some aren’t though. Some shorter stays are called Weekends, other (as well as longer stays) are called Trips.
  • If you want to plan a trip that Google doesn’t know about yet, you can type what you want in a search. You are not limited to cities only but trying anything but cities may be confusing. I entered Russia and everything looked normal. Until I entered Things to do: only 3 categories, only 1 random suggestion at Top Spots.
This is the Top Spot of Russia.

Things went better for islands like Bali or Samui. But larger islands like Sumat(e)ra or Borneo, coastal regions like Scotland, Catalonia, Tuscany or Lazio are not supported. Another surprise was that Google Trips features places from other countries in the Places A-Z category. Places of Rome in the Vatican would hardly bother anyone but places from the partially recognized republic of Abkhazia in Russia may bother Georgians. Officially Google Maps show Abkhazia as a part of Georgia.

  • If you have used Google Maps to store locations this app will list all of them at the special Saved places section. It could be an advantage when you and start using Google Trips after starting preparations for a trip. But if you used Google Maps for earlier trips it could be a disadvantage, too: you would have to clear the map from places you are no longer interested in. There is no “Visited” status in Google Maps,
  • There are two sections devoted to itinerary creation: Day plans and Things to do. Day plans store sample itineraries for the destination while the Things to do are lists of places grouped by categories. There are default categories for every destination (Top spots, Local favorites, etc.) and categories that reflect local specifics. It could be an easy way to discover unique places of the destination. E.g. Google Trips suggested Constructivist buildings in Moscow that were not suggested by any other service. Good job, Google! But not everything went that smoothly:
  1. for other cities rich of buildings of this style (e.g. Saint Petersburg, Yekaterinburg) this category is not suggested. Generally, the less visited the city is the fewer categories will be suggested for things to do.
  2. when we discussed Inspirock with Tom Kincaid he noticed that the service didn’t suggest to visit Sagrada Familia or Park Güell in Barcelona. And Barcelona is the city featured in Google Trips advertising campaign. You know what? Park Güell is not featured in Modernista Landmarks section in Google Trip! There are only 8 objects in it and one is Montjuïc Cemetery that is not included in the official Modernisme guide of Barcelona with a list of 116 buildings (i.e. not of that style at all).
Are these 2 building really the most prominent Modernista landmarks of Barcelona?

In the other category (Outdoors) the list contains 20 objects. Why Modernista Landmarks are limited to just 8 buildings while 8 is the number of buildings included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites? Not only that 8 buildings are worth visiting. And by the way, not only Park Güell but 2 other buildings of the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites are not featured as Modernista Landmarks.

One of them is Palau de la Música Catalana. And here is another surprise. Wrong pictures are not what I expected of Google, but it happened somehow. Google didn’t manage to notice that the main picture doesn’t coincide with ones that are featured at “From around the web” section below.

Ordinary Google interface.

However, Google Maps have the correct picture for this place.

The same address, the same 4,7, a difference of just 5 reviews — but completely different picture.
  • I have seen “For you” category between “Top spots” and “Local favorites” in screenshots but failed to find it in the app for numerous cities I looked through. The suggestion feature was killed by Google? Because it wasn’t good?
  • There also more traditional categories of places (Architecture, Museum, Church, etc.) that are suggested when you search within a destination,
  • As Google has a lot of partners there is Discounts section. It is written that “Discounts are based on your trips” but for Saint Petersburg trip I was shown not only local but also global offers that do not cover the city.
  • To create your own itineraries you should go to Day plans or open a map at Things to do and tap the plus icon. Similar to creating a new email in Gmail. What if you tapped the plus icon from Things to do by mistake or just changed your mind and decided to go back? The only option here — you would be sent to Day plans.
    Here is what I noticed about creating custom plans:

The app doesn’t prioritize places you saved despite the setting. I had dozens of saved places and when I asked to create a full-day itinerary there were only 5 places and only 3 saved by me. After saving the route and clicking on it the problem will be more noticeable: there are plaсes even on my way from a suggested place to another one and they are open on Wednesdays (that I chose for this day). But they are not suggested anyway.

② Tapping “Refresh” button (see below) you can try creating a route again. Does its contrast color suggest that the initial trial will be probably irrelevant and you should definitely consider trying once again?

③ Even if it would prioritize it is not evident whether “favorites”, “starred” and “want to go” are equal in priority for creating a route or not,

④ The app has the potential to define what its users want — but it is not used. All my places were hidden gems while the suggestion was from Top spots of the city,

From left to right — 4, 5, 6, 1, 3, 2.

The sequencing is bad. Our current leader Sygic Travel is not beaten. And there is plenty of noise at the map. Ok Google, how can I remove suggestions from a Day plan on Google Trips? I haven’t found the answer.

⑥ For some unknown reason, the title of the itinerary is its first place. And there is no pencil icon to change it. If I tap the back arrow I would be asked whether I want to discard changes. Only after saving the route I can rename it,

⑦ Do you remember that example of Modernista landmarks of Barcelona? When I clicked on the map it showed that 8 dots I had written about before. And there was Plus icon. “OK, let’s create the route”, I thought. You know what? First, it redirected me to another page with hundreds of dots. And only there tapping Refresh button created the route. No surprise it has quite nothing with the list I came through. Seems there is no way to create a route through the exact dots even if they are featured at default category of the destination landmarks. Hey Google, why do you tease me with this curated collections and map features if I can’t do the most obvious thing anybody can do with any number dots — connect them with 1 line?

I can’t see how long the itinerary will probably take even after saving it and thus can’t decide should I add some more places to it or not. There are no suggested durations of a visit. Let alone hints whether I should enter a museum/church/shop etc. or just observe it outside.

Conclusion: Google tried bud failed to use its full potential for travel planning. Major functions of itinerary creation are bad, deceptive and worse than at competitors. I had been using Google Maps for creating my own itineraries but the performance of Google Trips discouraged me from using this service instead.

3.3.2. Breaking news: Google to close Trips

As Google announced to cease support of Google Trips in August, I updated my research of the giant’s travel product: now Google Travel instead of Google Trips:

  • While Google Trips were mobile-only Google Travel seems to be desktop-only. When I tried to reach the same address ( on my phone it redirected me to Google Flights with no explanation on how to reach Google Travel,
  • Interfaces of Trips and Travel are similar. If you use Gmail you will find the same past and future trips on the main page,
  • The single most important difference: there is no “Create Trip” link in Google Travel (that was the core feature to include Google Trips in the research),
  • Google Travel better deals with country-wide searches. In the case of Russia, it listed 2 options: the weird one that I wrote initially about and the trustworthy one. There was a surprising bug, though.
Russian patriots would be happy to see Google (officially considering Crimea a part of Ulraine) including Tokyo into country’s limits.
  • The bug with Palau de la Música Catalana is still there. In Google Travel it is easier to notice that the same building is featured for 2 different attractions.
Compare the first and the last pictures, find 10 differences.
  • Though I was logged into my Google account, my saved places from Google Maps weren’t at the map of Things to Do section. The reason: that map features only places suggested by Google. If you save a place from the list — it will be marked at the map of Things to Do section. If you save a place out of the list — sorry. This limit along with the short list of suggestions makes it really inconvenient to use the service for people open to random suggestions. These suggestions are even right there — at the map powered by Google. But all places outside the list are not clickable.
  • Landmarks categories are not in Google Travel. Not only location-suggested like “Constructivist buildings” for Moscow but also common and traditional ones “church”, “museum”, etc. Navigation became more difficult and the overall service — less interesting, with fewer features.

Conclusion: Google steps out of the itinerary planning market, concentrating on more promising markets (i.e. flights, hotels, tour packages).



Founder&ex-CEO of a local B2B marketplace in a ready-mix concrete industry seeking the professional transition.

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Pavel Nosikov

Founder&ex-CEO of a local B2B marketplace in a ready-mix concrete industry seeking the professional transition.