Skift Take

Google's retreat in tours and activities booking services doesn't mean Google is becoming less powerful in travel. It's part of Google's strategy to wrangle consistency across its products in offering a combination of advertisements and free listings to gain an even wider audience.

In what has to be a disappointment to the often wild and erroneous speculation that Google was on its way to becoming an online travel agency, Google informed tours and activities providers and booking partners that it will phase out Reserve with Google for tour bookings starting August 1, Skift has learned.

Reserve with Google enabled tours and activities operators to capture bookings in their Google business listings with travelers not having to navigate to other websites. Online travel agencies partners processed the bookings for Google on the back end.

“We would like to inform you that Google is planning to officially turn off Reserve with Google for tours, activities, and attractions on August 1st, 2021. This means the Buy Tickets button will no longer appear after July 31st,” Google informed operators and partners.

The strategy, as Dennis’ Online Travel Briefing reported a few weeks ago, is for Google to achieve a consistency across its various products for monetization purposes. So just as Google transitioned its hotel metasearch product, Google Hotels, to a combination of advertisements and free links, it will do likewise with tours and activities, or experiences.

Google’s diminution of its booking services doesn’t mean it is becoming less powerful in travel or withdrawing from the business of Things to Do, as Google calls it.

A Google spokesperson provided a statement about Google’s next steps with attractions.

“We intend to pilot the introduction of ticket booking links on Google Search, so users can easily compare options for visiting their favorite attractions,” the spokesperson said.

So this is initially different from how Google handles Google Hotels, Google Vacation Rentals and Google Flights, which are packaged in Google Travel’s price-comparison service.

Google will initially offer ticketing for attractions — namely places like theme parks or museums, and not necessarily food tours, for instance — in Google Search. Consumers would presumably be able to start in Google search and then book these attractions on the attractions’ websites or from online travel agency partners.

Partner booking links, which require less integration than with Reserve With Google, would be free in the initial stage. Google wouldn’t be compensated for the clicks.

By dropping Reserve With Google for attractions, Google can provide more focus to building out the product.

Some pundits have long engaged in wild speculation that Google would turn a switch and become an all-in online travel agency. But that is implausible because Google then would have to directly compete — even more than  it does today — with its largest advertisers, including Booking Holdings, Expedia Group, and many others.

That would put Google’s massive travel advertising business, undoubtedly one of its largest verticals, at risk.

“As we’ve shared previously, Google is continuing to invest deeply in solutions for users and partners in this industry, and we are excited to continue to collaborate with you on Google Things to do in 2021 and beyond,” Google told tour operators and partners. “Please also keep in mind that as our new product offerings continue to scale up, in particular the tickets search feature for Attractions, it is likely that Reserve with Google traffic will continue to decrease in the final month it is live.”

It is likely no coincidence that Google is ratcheting down its booking services during a period when its power in travel and other verticals is coming under pressure.

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Tags: attractions, experiences, google, hotels, metasearch, online travel agencies, otas, tours and activities

Photo Credit: A Vatican tour in the pre-Covid era, 2005. Google is phasing out its own booking services in tours and activities. Northfielder / Flickr.com

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