Guest Post: The benefits behind Google offering direct ticket booking links for tours and more

Guest Post: The benefits behind Google offering direct ticket booking links for tours and more

Google is now offering direct ticket booking links for tours, museums and attractions. Michael Shane, director of marketing at boutique travel marketing agency Parador Travel, guides us through the new features and how to "stay ahead of the curve"

When Google announced a trio of new booking features for attractions and museums last year, tour operators were left waiting for their turn. The new features gave more autonomy to attraction owners within Google Search and Maps, including the ability to point customers to their own website to book tickets directly. 

These new booking links are a logical next step from the free booking links for hotels feature rolled out in 2021, which proved to be a lifeline for hotels during the pandemic. But, amidst the fanfare for museums and attractions, we were simply told that tour operators would have these features rolled out ‘in the near future’. 

With summer having just arrived across much of the globe, though, it looks like these updates are now on the horizon for tour operators too, who should be prepared to capitalise on them when the moment arrives. 

Direct ticket booking links

The major update that will help tour operators with their revenue is the inclusion of direct ticket booking links to Google Business Profiles.

When you activate direct ticket booking links, customers who find you via Google Maps or Google Search will see a ticket booking link that directs them straight to your own website, where they can purchase their ticket and complete the transaction without any third-party involvement. 

Businesses that enable this feature will get a blue ‘see tickets’ box in the knowledge panel for their location. This box contains booking links for different online vendors where tickets are available. The biggest news for tour operators, however, is that Google places the operator’s official site at the top of the list, with a blue ‘official site’ tick. 

This new feature is designed to help museums, attractions and tour operators to reach their target market directly, bypassing the OTAs and third-party vendors. Retaining commission isn’t the only benefit, though; when a customer purchases a ticket direct, tour operators also have a valuable opportunity to collect information for in-house marketing campaigns. 

By including prompts to sign up for newsletters, for example, operators can increase visibility for their offering at various touchstones in the travel booking journey. Asking questions at the booking stage also helps in-house marketing teams to build up a solid picture of who their customers are, where they come from, and, crucially, how they travel. This kind of data can be invaluable in helping to define audiences for pay-per-click, refining and tailoring SEO strategies, and crafting more personalised email marketing campaigns. 

The other major feature that Google rolled out was to allow business owners to update ticket prices directly through Google, rather than having to rely on a connectivity partner to keep ticket prices up to date. This will prove beneficial for smaller tour operators who might not have the budget - or need - for a dedicated connectivity partner, allowing them to keep control and manage ticket pricing autonomously. 

Remember, though, that price accuracy is considered a ranking factor by Google. If you do change your ticket prices on Google, you should make sure that your ticket booking link leads to a landing page that features the same pricing, or you risk losing visibility for searches related to your offering. 

Tour ads on attractions 

Travel brands are already familiar with the ‘Things to do’ ads unit on Google search. The other important update from Google, however, expanded the coverage of this ad unit to reach the knowledge panel for individual attractions. 

Put simply, this means that if you operate tours of the Spanish Steps in Rome, you can now bid for a sponsored ad placement directly on the knowledge panel for the Spanish Steps themselves. 

This can be a lucrative method to bring exposure to your tour, but it’s worth remembering that you’ll also be competing against hotels, accommodation and other tour operators. Unless you have the budget to compete with these entities, it might be advisable to utilize this feature for smaller attractions that have less competition. For example, your tour might take in several locations as part of a multi-stop itinerary: consider choosing one of the less obvious attractions that forms part of your tour, and bid for the ad placement there. 

Increasing the percentage of direct bookings is a goal for many independent businesses working in travel. The key is to reduce reliance on the OTAs, which allows tour operators the autonomy to execute more focused marketing campaigns. In turn, that will create a virtuous cycle that encourages more customers to book directly. 

This set of new features from Google make that goal more achievable, and tour operators should take the initiative to stay ahead of the curve.