Google: The love-hate relationship that the tours and activities industry (or the whole travel industry) has with it, is based upon the fact that most people, when planning for their trip, will start by searching things such as "what to do in Paris?" or "tickets for the Eiffel tower".
So, like it or not, OTAs, tour operators, attractions, and everyone is trying to compete to get more visibility on this platform.
The good news is that now there's a simple and FREE (for the moment) way to get more clicks to your website: Google Things To Do (formerly known as Reserve with Google). This new program allows you to list your tours directly under popular attractions within your city.
Why is my tour business going to be listed under an attraction?
Let's say you're a bike tour operator in Paris. Let's say you have a "Paris Bike City Tour" that stops at the Eiffel tower.
Now, let's say there's a customer that's looking for "Eiffel Tower tours" or "Eiffel Tower" tickets.
They would obviously benefit from knowing that your tour that stops at the Eiffel Tower is available, right? And you would benefit from that additional booking, correct? What Google is doing is connecting the two parties.
If you offer tours that go through popular attractions (or in Google's terminology "points of interest") you can list your tours under their Google profiles! Which in turn, would result in them booking directly on your website.
How can you do this? Great question!
Step 1: List Your Business on Google
If you still don't have a Google Business Profile, go ahead and click that link to create one. This is not necessarily a requirement right now to sign up for Google Things To Do, but its the quickest and easiest way for your business to show up on a Google search. The exposure and ease of access to reviews and your general contact information will prove helpful to you and your customers regardless. Not to mention that creating a Google Business Profile is as simple as 1, 2, 3:
Simple to manage
Creating a custom profile that displays your logo, photos, and essential info for your customers, helps them find and contact you easier. Furthermore, by having the ability to customize your profile, you can display attributes that pertain specifically to your business, like women-owned or veteran-owned, which allows customers to get to know you and your business a little better.
If, when you search for your business name, there's a Google profile that comes up but you are not managing it, then you'll just need to claim it.
Optimize Exposure with Google Categories
During set-up you would have been asked to choose a category for your business, this category can be changed later, but plays a major role in optimizing your Google Business Profile and driving traffic directly to your business via Google searches.
The category you choose will determine how easily customers can find you so it’s obviously best to choose the most relevant category as possible, and don’t be afraid to get specific.
Bear in mind as well, you shouldn’t ever just “set it and forget it,” best practices recommend to “monitor how you are ranking and how leads are changing.” Studies show that “after your business name, the primary category is the most important factor for better ranking in a Local Google Search.”
Step 2: Sign-up for Google "Things To Do"
There's currently no way to sign up "directly" for Google Things To Do, you'll always need to sign up through one of their partners from this list. There's two types of partners currently...
1. Restech platforms: Also called and known as, "booking software" or "reservation systems", think of companies like Bokun, Rezdy, Fareharbor, Checkfront, etc.
If your booking system is listed as a partner of Google Things To Do, you'll just need to contact them and see what steps you need to take for your listings to show up in your desired "Points of Interest".
The benefit of going through your current restech is that most you most likely won't have to pay any additional fees, so it's technically a free service.
However, keep in mind that, given how many customers these companies usually have and how many things they handle, some operators have had some issues getting the attention necessary to go live on a quick timeline.
2. Specialized Google Partners: If you are working with a restech company that currently doesn't integrate to Google Things To Do or if the process isn't going fast enough, you can still sign up through an specialized Google partner. There are companies on that list, such as "Magpie" or "Livn" that currently specialize in managing the content of and listing your tours under "Google Things To Do". Keep in mind, however, that contrary to restechs, these companies will likely charge a fee for its service.
How to Get Your Tours Listed on an Attraction's Profile
In order for you to list your tour under a specific attraction, such attraction must be mapped by Google as a "Point of Interest" (POI), which means that it is already displaying "Google Things To Do" listings.
You can recognize if it is mapped as POI if there's an "Admissions" box under the main address, phone numbers, and hours in the listing. That means it's ready to go! Once you have found the attractions you would like to list your tours on (that are participating on this program already), you simply have to reach out to your Google partner or restech to begin the process of listing such tour under that attraction.. In other words, you must:
Work with your Google partner or restech
With them, submit your listing/profile to Google
Once approved, have your tours listed under a "point of interest" (POI)
However, please bear in mind that your product submission will only be approved if:
Your tour or activity actually stops (not just passes by) by such POI
You include, within your price, the cost of the ticket, to such POI.
How Does Google Classify My Tours and Activities Listings?
There are a couple different ways in which Google will classify listings once they are approved and posted.
Experiences (tours and activities)
Tickets, or attractions, will be listed first as you scroll down the attractions Google Business listing. This section maily offers general tickets for attractions and admission. Being listed here will take customers directly to your site to buy their tickets.
Experiences, or tours and activities, will show up just below the "tickets" section on a Google Business listing. As of right now, you will mostly see listings from tours offered via OTA's (your tours included maybe!), but your website can be listed too! So long as you offer a tour or activity that stops at this attraction and if you're offering that ticket, your Google partner or restech can list your tours here as well.
What Happens if The Attraction Your Tours are Associated With are Not Recognized by Google as a Point of Interest
First, don't panic, this happens all the time.
In the event that an attraction is not listed, or mapped, on Google as a point of interest, either your Google partner or restech should be able to save the day by requesting Google on your behalf to get a location mapped so that you can list your tours you offer under that attraction.
Step 3: Maximize Your Bookings via Google
If you've followed the steps above, your products should now be listed under popular attractions that get a lot of visibility among people planning their trip. Once they click on your product, they will be redirected to your website and will be able to book directly there.
However, bear mind that your product listings will be competing against many companies out there, including big OTAs like "Get Your Guide" or "Viator" that are, let's be honest, currently dominating this area. So just having your listings up and forgetting about it is not enough.
How Can I Beat an OTA When Listing My Tours and Activities?
There are four factors that will affect how many people will click on your listing:
1) Positioning of your listing:
As general wisdom dictates, the first three listings will get the most amount of visibility and clicks so you want your products to rank as high as possible. Google's algorithms will determine what listings will be on top, and these are usually influenced by reviews. The quality of your score (out of 5), the amount of reviews you have, and how frequent you get reviews on Google will play a big role as to where your products will show. HINT: If you are not sure where your products stand against your competition, you can ask for a FREE Competitive Review Analysis here.
2) Optimize the title (name) of your product:
You will have to think hard and long as to what your product name is, because it has more impact as to how many clicks you get than you imagine. Let's say for example a traveler is searching for "Eiffel Tower tickets". They find the Eiffel Tower business profile on Google, and under it, the Google Things To Do listings where "Experiences" are listed. If you name your tour "Paris Bike Tour" travelers will judge you by it and they won't really know anything about your tour or if they will be able to visit the Eiffel Tower during this tour or if the ticket is included (which is what they originally search for). Yes, you and I know that admission is included, or otherwise, it wouldn't be listed, but travelers don't know this. So let's say you name your tour instead "4-hour Paris Bike Tour with Eiffel Tower Tickets Included". Don't you think that it is more appealing?
3) Good and relevant pictures:
Even though Google will only allow for one picture on your listing, and even though it is really small, it still plays a major role as to whether people will click on it or not. Make sure the picture you are using is relevant to the attraction you are being listed under (ie. the Eiffel Tower in this case). Research also shows that people are more inclined to appreciate pictures where there are other people enjoying their tour (not posing) in a natural way.
4) Price, price, price:
Like it or not, travelers don't have the time or the energy to do the reserach necessary to understand why your tour is 3x more expensive than that being offered by your competition or by the OTA.
Other than the product's title you have really no other place to provide context, so most customers will be inclined to click on those tours and experiences that won't break their bank.
Get creative and see if there's ways for you to have a "bait" pricing where you can later add on more items. Example: Do you include hotel pick ups in your tour? Why not offer a version of that tour that doesn't include that and offer your customers that pick-up option as an add-on during the check out process?
What We Have Learned
Customizing and setting up all the “things to do” for your customers, and managing your Google Business Profile is as easy as:
Signing-up for free
Managing your profile from Google Search or Google Maps
Personalizing your profile with logo, photos, attributes, contact info, etc.
Working with a Google parter or approved restech
Listing what your business offers: products, tours, experiences, etc. on attraction profiles
Reaching more customers by beating your competition and OTAs through listing optimization
By following the 3 simple steps below you will see a significant rise in bookings and reviews via your Google Business Profile and Google "things to do":