Skift Take

Google's push to visually immersive search on its maps app may boost the discoverability of hidden-gem tours, activities, and museums.

Google on late Thursday outlined its highly anticipated updates to Google Maps, which it began rolling out to users in a select list of cities — mainly in North America and Europe to start.

For businesses in the travel experiences sector, the key new feature is photo-first searches of tours and activities. Rather than lists of links, a user can see photo-based representations of travel experiences and tap on photos to learn more and navigate to, say, the departure point of a boat tour.

“So if you’re in Tokyo, you could search for things to do’ to see thematic place suggestions like ‘anime,’ ‘cherry blossoms,’ or ‘art exhibitions,'” said Chris Phillips, a vice president who leads Google’s worldwide portfolio of geospatial and mapping products, technology and business.

The challenge for tour-and-activities operators and for museums is to make sure they have good visual representations of their travel experiences for Google Maps to display. This challenge can be especially hard for some emerging destinations, where small mom-and-pop proprietors lack savvy about the images that Google Maps is aggregating.

Google Maps Does More in Travel

Google’s move comes just a few months after it introduced a carousel in its search results to more clearly highlight tours and activities in destinations, as Skift reported.

Skift earlier this year delved into Google Maps’ potential to position itself as a superapp with the broad uptake of conversational artificial intelligence.

The immersive Maps updates, centered on visually rich content curated through AI, further enhance Google’s offering for tour operators and experience listings, following a new tours and activities carousel view released earlier in July.

Google Wants Maps to Help With Travel Inspiration

The search giant’s broad theme is to emphasize visually rich content for travel businesses and tour operators looking to make the most of organic discoverability through Google’s new tools.

The company also wants to make Maps more of a planning tool rather than an in-the-moment tool. The photo-based experiences underscore Google’s desire to “move up the funnel” of the consumer journey away from the transactions and more into inspiration will have ripple effects for travel marketers.

What else is new?

Google announced on Thursday other tools that aim to turn Google Maps into more than just a route planner.

  • “Immersive views” (think: getting a visual preview of a walking tour’s route — complete with a “time-slider tool” to plan the outing based on simulated traffic and weather conditions).
  • “Lens in maps” (think: a user discovering information about nearby activities, museums, and walking or boating tours by tapping an icon and raising their phone).

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Tags: apps, artificial intelligence, experiences, google, google maps, online booking, search, tours and activities

Photo credit: Google searches for Things To Do are now also enhanced with photo-first results. Unsplash, Yu Kato

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