Keeping up with the latest developments in travel technology remains central to optimizing the visitor experience both in the planning stages of their trip and while they’re in-market. As we survey the current landscape, it is more apparent than ever that Google is continuing to make the travel tech space a high priority. Along with leveraging the opportunities that Google is developing, we are also seeing the potential for augmented reality and artificial intelligence. To these ends, we have highlighted 5 travel tech trends below that we feel have the potential to impact travel-related economic development activity in small to mid-sized destinations over the next couple of years.
#1 Google My Business
Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool that allows individual stakeholders to manage how their attractions, restaurants and accommodations in your destination appear on Google Search and Maps. And GMB is rapidly becoming adopted by users because Google has been making it a priority to provide travelers with virtually all of the information they’re typically searching for – and their strategy is paying off (for Google) as just over 50 percent of Google searches now result in 0 clicks.
So where do DMOs fit into this equation? As the curator of your destination, it’s your job to ensure that your local eateries, lodging providers and attractions have complete and accurate Google profiles. The actual places visitors will dine, stay, explore and shop in your destination need to ensure that they are Google-verified, that all their information is accurate and complete including a business profile photo, hours of operation, amenities, services, etc. and that they are encouraging and then engaging with reviewers.
To make this happen, consider sending a GMB email reminder, hosting a GMB seminar, undertaking a Google listing attractor scoring effort, or creating a contest for the highest GMB score (or all of the above!) and make sure you’re sharing this information with your city’s biggest attractors and hidden gems. These efforts will not only make a favorable first impression on visitors but will encourage users to click through to websites for more “branded” information on many of your destination’s offerings and contribute to the “why “they should book a visit.
#2 Google Maps Local Guides
Google Maps will soon begin piloting a new feature that will help travelers discover new places with help from Local Guides. These Local Guides share can’t-miss experiences by contributing reviews, photos, lists, and more, all of which will soon be available directly within Google Maps. With more than 1 billion people using the app to search for things to do, this new feature has tremendous potential for DMOs in need of fresh ways to curate and personalize the visitor experience. While the Local Guides program has been around for a few years, the ability to follow specific profiles is new, with local recommendations surfacing under a “For You” tab while visitors are traveling. While this feature is still in the testing phase, keep an eye on Local Guides as it could prove to be a highly beneficial tool for your DMO.
In the meantime, are you sharing can’t-miss experiences on the blog on your website? If not, it’s imperative that you do! You know that stat you just read about 50 percent of Google searches garnering zero clicks? One reason for that is because Google is extracting answers to users’ search queries from your website, listing them as excerpts at the top of Google’s results page. For your DMO to be referenced as THE resource for your destination, you need to have those answers living on your website so Google will make your DMO the source of this information.
#3 Google Earth Custom Tours
As you can see so far, Google is really stepping it up in the travel tech space. And to delve even deeper into that space, the tech giant added a new tool in November of 2019 to Google Earth that allows users to build and overlay custom tours on Google Earth maps on desktop computers. This tool allows users to set landmarks, connect attractions, and add text, images and video to every point along the way. While Google Earth already has a professionally-crafted guided tours feature in its Voyager tab, this new development will allow anyone to make and share a tour, maximizing the potential to crowdsource and share real visitor experiences in a new way. While this feature is currently only available to desktop users, there’s no reason to believe it won’t soon be improved even more and made available in the mobile app.
#4 Augmented Reality (AR)
Unlike virtual reality, Augmented Reality is far more accessible, typically requiring little more than access to the technology already embedded in most modern mobile devices. The main advantage of using this technology in the travel and tourism space is the ability to make the visitor experience more informative, immersive and memorable. Using graphical overlays, AR technology can enhance physical locations and tourist attractions with a number of features, such as virtual guides, hours of operation, or historical facts about the attraction itself — appearing when a user points their mobile device toward the subject in question. Augmented Reality’s uses are virtually unlimited, and its relative affordability and easy implementation make it worth beginning to explore in 2020.
#5 Artificial Intelligence (AI)
In the last few years, artificial intelligence has seen increased adoption in the travel and tourism industry — so far mostly in the form of chatbots on social media platforms, messaging apps and websites. As travelers plan their trips and seek out information about accommodations, attractions, activities, and other experiences, chatbots can respond rapidly to questions, and provide information on demand. Furthermore, AI can be used to improve personalization and tailor recommendations as the technology learns from each interaction and improves its responses moving forward.
The next few years are shaping up to be a transformative time for travel technology, and we’ve only scratched the surface here. If this is a topic you’d like to discuss further, let us know! We appreciate feedback from each and every one of you, and we’re continually watching the travel tech space for exciting new developments that we can share with you in the future.