Destinations on Google is a brand new mobile search feature that offers the ability to compare trip prices, dates and locations. Users can explore itineraries and compare travel options to help plan an upcoming vacation by searching for a place name followed by the word “destination” or “vacation.”

It’s a shiny new tool, but what does it mean for a destination marketing organization (DMO)? Members of Destination Think’s strategy team discussed the implications.

Mikala FolbMikala Folb
Content Strategist, Destination Think

“DMOs really need to show off what they offer that goes beyond the obvious attractions.”

This is an interesting tool, and the flight info on basic costs and options is great.

According to all the press, Destinations on Google has positioned itself as a way to make things super “easy” while “taking the pain out of booking,” which highlights the stress we have in finding fares, booking and planning. The search results bring the big airlines to the surface but if you click through you can see the majority of them. It certainly makes comparing flights much easier.

Also, under each city destination there are a number of keywords. For example, Malibu is displayed as “surfing, beaches, hiking, wine tasting, seafood,” while San Francisco is “Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars and fog”! Obviously, these are extracted based on what people have actually searched for, which does mean that a destination will have to work hard to “shift Google’s mind” if it’s trying to change perceptions or raise awareness of new or niche experiences. One of the ways DMOs can do that is by creating and executing against a solid content strategy that improves content volume in the areas that are essential to their DNA.

Also, there are only 13 buckets of “Interests” in their filter, which is quite broad. I wish there were more. For example, if I wanted to know about concerts in California, I’d have to choose “Culture,” which shows me everything under the sun. It means that DMOs really need to show off what they offer that goes beyond the obvious attractions.

Above all, destinations absolutely need to think mobile first while making things easier and more valuable for people who visit their sites. Usability, user experience (UX), indexing/auditing content, search engine optimization (SEO) and related aspects are essential.

Aaron NissenAaron Nissen
Senior Strategic Consultant, Destination Think

“I’m sure Google will watch how it intercepts travel planning and use those insights to find ways to get in front of consumers.”

I think Google could go somewhere big with this. It’s very high level and consumers will still go beyond it to narrow down to their individual interests. Consumers need to see value in this. Google is observing how this tool intercepts travel planning and they’ll use those insights to find ways to get their platforms in front of users. I’m surprised there are no TripAdvisor rankings – they seem to be more trusted than Google reviews.

Really this is a “platform” move from Google to keep users on their networks.

I don’t think this release will cause much of a ripple in the DMO world just yet. It’s something to observe, though – the next Google platform and product will be interesting, if they can use the results gained from this to their advantage.

This feature has a strong appeal to domestic travellers with data access. I could see these being “downloadable” for when you are offline just like you can do with their Maps (which is so useful!).

William BakkerWilliam Bakker
Chief Strategist & Partner, Destination Think

“For a DMO, I think this is another nail in the digital coffin.”

I’m with Aaron – this could become something big. It’s really a combination of a bunch of individual apps and trends. With Google, you never know. One thing I find missing at Google is a solid product strategy. They seem to have a hacker mentality of throwing new applications out there just because they can, and see if it works later. So we’ll see.

I think the most important thing is that it combines discovery with price in one interface. Before, you’d take the shortlist of places you researched and would then start looking for feasibility based on when you want to go, or the other way around, often by using different services. Here, feasibility is built into discovery in a way that’s fully integrated. That opens up some possibilities. But there’s also a risk that it will commoditize things further.

For a DMO, I think this is another nail in the digital coffin. Think about where this service will lead to in five years, and at that point, who needs a DMO website?

Frank Cuypers

Frank Cuypers
Senior Strategic Consultant, Destination Think

“By bringing inspiration (media) and conversion (booking) together, Google will not only push DMO websites out of the market but OTA websites as well.”

I agree with William’s remark but I see another nail in the digital coffin. We’ve taught DMOs to go digital and to do joint promotions with online travel agencies (OTAs). Destinations on Google seems to behave as a virtual OTA. By bringing inspiration (media) and conversion (booking) together, Google will not only push DMO websites out of the market but OTA websites as well. It’s not crucial for the role of a DMO as coordinator (just a ripple, as Aaron said) but it could be very disruptive for the OTAs.

It’s possible that OTAs will complain to the courts at some point about Google’s abuse of power in terms of how prominently “Destinations on Google” is promoted within search results. The likely response from Google that results are decided by a “secret algorithm” might not be enough as justification.

What impact will Destinations on Google have on destination marketers? Join the conversation by leaving a comment.

Related reading: Why your destination needs to find its unique selling proposition
Related reading: Making brave decisions and leading through change: why is it so important for DMOs to take risks and how can leadership foster innovation?

2 Comments

  1. Douglas

    I think there are still a lot of questions unanswered regarding the future of DMO websites. Will the DMO website die, or will it only change focus? Can/will Google Destinations be able to present all things to all people or will there be gaps in the results. With the way the Google currently treats content searches (i.e. Google’s own results taking the lions share of the SERP’s), will a DMO need to move to a more experience based site, promoting it’s best experiences, moving away from the classic directory style offerings, and move the secondary content to a wiki set up to feed the Google SERP’s. Will the DMO site have to focus mostly on the early research phase of traveller research?

    There’s still a lot at play with Google Destinations, though I don’t doubt that it, or something similar will greatly change the landscape – it’s all about staying on our toes!

    Reply
    • Aaron

      You raise some great questions about the future of a DMO website. Fundamentally DMOs need to understand the ever-changing trip planning ecosystem. According to Google, consumers visit ~22 websites during their travel planning process. Smart DMOs will focus on understanding the role their website can best play during this process. Is booking the best use of DMO resources or should that be left to OTAs and your partners? Should it be awareness of experiences? Leads to partners? Once the role is determined, then the level of investment should be considered as well. Could that same functionality be done cheaper and more effectively elsewhere? e.g. Via Google Destinations?

      The takeaway is that the DMO site is no longer the be all end all source for information. DMO website are now competing for relevancy to some of these other intermediaries. What is the sweet spot for your DMO to hone in on to impact consumer travel? How much should that investment be?

      Reply

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