Mastering Google My Business for Tourism Operators

By Darryl Leniuk | Adventure Business

May 31

Why You Need to Optimize Your GMB Page Right Now

Would you like an easy way to get page one real estate on Google? Or to sell last minute spots on a trip or promote your latest tour? Your Google My Business page may be the answer.

You may have set up a GMB page a while ago and assumed it was done. Or maybe someone in your organization, or even a customer, created your page. Or you’re thinking, ‘I’m not a local business, my bookings come from overseas so I don’t need to bother with this.’ Well, you might want to reconsider that. I’m going to show you why.

A Brief of History of GMB

What originally started as Google Places, then Google + Local is now Google My Business. With each iteration, powerful new features have been added. Google has made GMB a priority, and when the second most valuable company on the planet thinks something is important, you should be paying attention too. The problem is most travel companies and tour operators are not really local businesses, in the sense that they don’t serve the local market, like bakeries, cafes and flower shops, so it’s hard to see the value.

Get in the Google 3-Pack

When you do a search, you typically get three types of results: organic, paid and local. Organic results are what Google deems most relevant, and this usually includes a geographic component. Paid results are the ads and sponsored posts that come up and ‘local’ are the Google My Business pages pages in that ‘3-pack’. To illustrate how this works, I’m going to look at sea kayaking, but the same applies to any tour business anywhere. So, since I’m in Vancouver, if I do a search for ‘guided sea kayaking’ I get the following: 



Local Sea Kayaking SERPs

Results from ‘guided sea kayaking’ search in Vancouver


Interestingly, the same search on mobile delivers up several ads not on desktop, but what is key here is that Google My Business window, right in the center of page 1, and those top three results. Those are GMB pages in there, NOT website links. Digging a little deeper and looking at all the results, under the ‘best match’ default, shows many geographically distant businesses come up higher than closer ones due to their GMB pages. Wildheart Adventures (sorry guys), which is not that far away from me, came up last, in 20th position, behind many operators in Washington State, despite having a website showing all their kayaking tours which should be giving them decent SEO. Their GMB page was unclaimed.  


GMB search results

Claim your GMB page or wind up in last spot…or not at all!


Now, what about someone in your target market, planning a trip from overseas, where local results for their area are not relevant?  So, sticking with our kayaking example, let’s say I’m planning a trip to Baja, Mexico, and do a search (from Vancouver) for ‘Baja Sea Kayaking’. Here again, the GMB listings still come up on page one. A total of only 5 operators show up here, again, sorted by the quality of their GMB pages, NOT websites. The 3rd top organic result, Sea & Adventures, doesn’t even show up, i.e. no GMB page.


GMB page for Baja Sea Kayaking

GMB pages show up on page 1 even when searching outside your local area.


A cursory look tells you that if you’re a local operator, it’s way easier to get into that 3-pack than to win at SEO. The big inbound tour operators will take the top organic and paid slots, but they can’t compete in the Google 3-Pack, because they’re not local.

Claim Your GMB Page

By now you’re saying, Ok, I get it, I should be optimizing my GMB page, but where to begin? Start here and see what Google has on file and if your GMB page has been claimed. If you have a GMB page, Google will even offer you some suggestions for improvements. If not, get cracking and claim it. You’ll likely have to confirm your business address and then take a deep breath…and wait. About two weeks later you’ll get a confirmation code by old school mail and you can then begin the free sign up process.

Get Your Details Right

Begin by making sure all your contact details are correct, then pick the right category for what you do. Think of it from your potential customer’s point of view; what would they find more helpful, ‘Tour Operator’ or ‘Canoe and Kayak Tour Agency’?

GMB business categories

GMB business categories should be as detailed as possible…


Once you’ve got that done, decide how you want to show up on Google Maps. For tour operators running tours from remote locations, the last thing you want is customers using Maps to arrive at your business at 7am, when they’re supposed to be at the pier loading their boats, an hour’s drive away. The way around this is to click NO for “I serve customers at my business address.” and instead select “I deliver goods and services…”, and select the geographic area in which you run trips. That way you’ll still show on maps, but your address info will be hidden.

Look Amazing with Great Visuals

GMB lets you upload a 30-second video to your page. Take advantage of this by creating a video that shows customers the great experiences they can expect, but don’t be too salesy or heavy on the logos here. Photos of your business, staff and equipment can also be included. But note, customers can also upload videos and photos of their own.

Promote Your Business with Posts

Here’s a relatively new (and free) feature worth taking advantage of. If you’re running an event, Posts are a great place to promote it. Another use could be selling last minute spots on that trip going out in a few days or advertising a sale you’re having. Start with a strong visual, keep titles to 58 characters and copy to 200-300 characters and make sure to have a strong call to action. By default, posts are removed after 7 days to keep things fresh, with the exception of events, which are removed after the event takes place. There are currently three types of posts ‘events’, ‘what’s new’ and ‘offers’ Expect to see more options here in the future.


GMB post example

An example of a GMB Post from my own page. Sorry, had to plug this…


Other Great Features For Your Travel Business

Make sure to set up your call button, since most customers expect to see this. It’s also a great way to track the calls you’re getting through your listing. Another new feature is the ‘messages’ button, which allows back and forth texting with customers. Many travellers, particularly millenials, prefer this to calling a business. Google will keep your number private, and again, it’s free. Just make sure you’re prepared to answer texts as soon as they come in, which might not be a good option if you’re running tours in remote locations without coverage.

The new ‘bookings’ feature lets customers make appointments directly through your GMB page (available only in the US for now) and the Q&A section can be a great way to interact with your community, but be aware that anyone can post here, so be sure to turn your notifications on.

Get Those Reviews

One of the most important features of GMB pages is reviews. Great reviews affect your spot in the 3-pack and can have a big impact on potential customers. It’s even worth reaching out to your existing customer base to ask them to leave a review for you. Of course, turn on notifications and be prepared to respond promptly and appropriately to any bad reviews.

A word of caution here: some businesses use review management software, also known as ‘review-gating’ to siphon off bad reviews and boost 5-star ratings. Google recently announced this was no longer cool. So if you’ve been doing this, be careful, or all those great reviews you’ve accumulated may suddenly vanish.

Get More Results with Paid Ads

Your GMB page is linked directly to Adwords Express, a scaled down version of Adwords, that can be a great tool to promote special offers or sell trips to those visiting your area. You could even use Adwords Express to target audiences outside your area, say in other regions where your target market resides. But with its more limited functionality, it probably makes sense to use classic Adwords for more sophisticated campaigns overseas.

Track Everything to See What’s Working

‘Insights’ is the analytics tool built into GMB pages that gives basic performance results for how your page is doing. It shows ‘direct’ and ‘discovery’ searches that come to your page, phone calls received, and driving directions requested on Google Maps.  

Get More out of your GMB Page

Download the app to manage your page from your mobile device (and to respond right away to reviews). Finally, remember to check your listing often, since new functions are being added all the time, and the community-driven nature that Google encourages means anyone can ‘suggest an edit’, upload problematic photos or videos or leave negative reviews. The bit of time you spend managing your GMB page is well worth it for your tourism business.

If you need help with your Google My Business page or any other aspects of online marketing, don’t hesitate to reach out!