International Travel

Google Maps: A new direct channel for tour operators and activities

Google Maps has been evolving to serve travelers and travel brands over the past few years, and its newest major update was announced on October 26.

Among the updates were “Immersive Views” for routes, better lane and high occupancy vehicle data for route planning, EV charging data visibility improvements and, most importantly for the travel sector, captivating visual results for non-specific queries like “Things to do near me.”

The October product release aligns with Google’s continued efforts to diversify interactive surfaces beyond Google Search as younger users turn to platforms like Instagram and TikTok for content and respond better to visual and multimedia content.

The new update will be available in the coming weeks in major world markets including the United States, Canada, France and Germany.

Google Maps as an activity-finding tool

Imagine you’re taking a trip to New York City with your family and you have two young kids. One of the new features in this update is a “discover through photos” feature that shows artificial intelligence-filtered images of families participating in family-friendly activities in New York. You can explore those photos either in a carousel format or on the map itself. Clicking on a specific photo will navigate you to the tour, activity or attraction that the photo is uploaded to. This search would be in lieu of going to to search “Things to do in New York with kids.”

Google uses advanced image recognition and AI, which is already largely used in the Google Photos, Google Images and Google Search products to produce relevant, hyper-personalized search results from Google Business Profile listings.

Google Maps as a marketing channel for tours and activities

If the market adapts and users turn to Google Maps for activity inspiration, the new feature could lead to increased direct bookings for tour operators and attractions. The photos surfaced in the new feature appear to come from Google Business Profiles, a first-party surface for businesses using it. Furthermore, the Google Things to Do platform, which allows operators to list tour and attraction inventory directly on the Google Business Profile allows for seamless bookings.

The inclusion of exploratory searches in maps will likely result in faster progression from the top to the bottom of the funnel: turning a “discovery”-focused search into a purchasing opportunity.

As with all Google surfaces, smart travel businesses will find ways to “game” the system and influence their positioning in these search results. Most Google products don’t publish ranking algorithm specifics, so testing and iteration will be required to find the best way to position specific tours, activities and attractions higher in the list to ensure inclusion on the “discover through photos” feature.

Our advice for tour operators and activities: This is a photo-centric search, and the photos displayed appear to come directly from your Google Business Profile. Presumably, the more diverse photos you have of your experience and people enjoying your experience, the greater the number of opportunities to appear in passion-based and intent-based “things to do” searches in Google Maps.

Make sure there are photos of families enjoying your activity on your Google Business Profile. You can either upload those directly through your Google Business Profile or encourage customers to post reviews with photos, which get added to your library.

Google continues to push further into travel and tourism across its products – often with the perceived intention of shortening the time-distance between the “dreaming” and “booking” phases of Google’s “travel micro-moments.” This space continues to develop and bears watching for its continued evolution.

About the author …

Brennen Bliss is founder and principal at Propellic.

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