Think Local. Act Global. How Google Places Fails the Tourism Industry

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For location-based businesses, ranking highly in Google Places can be a boon to sales. This is not only true on, but also on many of the country-specific versions of Google as well. In the tourism and hospitality industries, business can use this medium to promote services to people planning trips to their location.

Take for example a search for hotels in New York from various places around the world. In Mexico, a traveler planning a vacation in New York might search for “hoteles Nueva York” on The first seven results (after the sponsored listings) served are incorporated from Google Places.

So how do businesses use Google Places to target visitors in Latin American, Asia, and Europe? With great difficulty appears to be the answer. Google, it appears, has decided that what’s best for an English speaking audience is best for everyone else when it comes to Places results. Though the results of the example from above deviate slightly from those on, the differences are minor. The same is true for results on Google France, Google Hong Kong, and Google Brazil.

This is wonderful news for those businesses that currently occupy the top results in Google Places. Not only do they capture significant market share from English speaking tourists but they also get the non-English speaking tourists as well. Google fails the tourism business here because it provides no preference for businesses that have made efforts to cater specifically to non-English speakers.  It would appear that Google simply expects all users to understand English.

The most relevant results for a non-English speaking, Mexican national searching for a hotel in New York would be hotels with Spanish language websites, reviews in Spanish, and Spanish speaking staff. But these factors do no not seem to play a part in the Places ranking algorithm. Even worse, the Places results that are incorporated into the main search engine results push the more relevant organic results below the fold. So much for Google’s number 1 principal of focusing on the user!

I imagine that over time, Google will improve Places and utilize factors such as website translation, and language-specific reviews to improve relevancy in different countries. If you are the owner or head marketer of a tourism business,  translating and optimizing your web presence will bring its rewards.

Alec Campbell
Alec works with companies to increase their global brand awareness and sales through higher visibility in international search engine results. He has been glued to... Read Full Bio
Alec Campbell
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  • Gwhiteside

    I’m sure Places is a move toward reaching the local classifieds space. In time this will be monetised through sponsored highlighted listings. The offering has a long way to go and probably will be geo targeted allowing French searchers looking for hotels in New York a more relevant result in the future. Currently, Google Places is a land grab that is upsetting many web businesses that are providing an entirely online experience. It’s time to rethink the online / offline relationships and rethink the keyword strategies. Big G just wants you to get your credit card out and jump straight into paid listings, one way or another they’ll get their way eventually.

  • Alec…Thanks for the Post

    While being one of many who has been a little frustated with Google Places over the last six months, I believe it’s sometimes a good thing to take off our “marketing” hats and put on our “user” hats. For example not every user in South America who is looking for a hotel in a US location cares about Spanish speaking clercks. What makes language any more significant than some other characteristic of a hotel?

    As a Marketing person, I need to remember Google Places is all about “location.” If I want to provide critical information about a business, then it is up to me to include certain terms and categories which attracts the users I want to attract.

    Google Places is one tool – for businesses and for users. If I place too much emphasis on one tool, I am probably not paying enough attention to the other tools at my disposal. Thanks again….

  • Michael Martinez

    This is a great case study of one of the several significant issues that Google’s increasing focus on local and mobile factors has raised.

  • Yep agreed it has failed the tourism industry but if they are buying ITA Software it is likely the same issue will happen there. I thought it was always accepted they didn’t worry about languages outside of english, but that is why plaforms such as Baidu and Yandex are growing and dominating their local markets.

    It struggles with english results that have the same name so i couldn’t even start to understand how it might work with multiple languages…

  • Hmmnnn… it seems you have a point there but I don’t think it had failed the tourism industry. I do think the search must be advanced in a nature and search through Spanish only websites. Google uses English as the default language thus it will show English websites first.

  • yep, and Places has grown [in size on the page] so much that it does push all the organic results too far down the fold. Maybe we are all going to have to succumb to a paid listing? I find the Places results are not very relevant to their true niche anyhow, (esp in the Tourism sector), and G has a narrow mind as to what constitutes a region. It seems a business which has a central city address (even though not very relevant to a niche), can get listed on Places far more easily over a business which is more true-to-niche but is outside of what G constitutes as ‘the’ region!
    Maybe I need to get an inner-city post-box!!?? [would that work].

  • I have the perfect case in the other side, when a latam based hotel wants to get visitors from google places it´s cannot manage to improve their ranking because google places has no access for latam based biz wait I can do to improve it? how can I login into Google places to manage the data because almost a half of all reviews are wrong locating the hotel in the city in Quito

  • A very noteworthy article to read. Thanks for the information on how Google places fails the tourism industry.

  • Diana

    I have to back up the comment about Google failing international businesses even more so than US business catering to international clients. The restaurants I work for are always showing up a block or TWENTY away from their actual location, and sometimes showing up as being in Indiana (when they are actually in the country of Panama). There is no way for a business owner to take ownership of their listing in most countries, so there is absolutely no way to fix this. When I finally got a hold of someone at Google, they told me to submit changes on MyMaps, and these changes have now been pending review for weeks. INCREDIBLY frustrating! I hate to think of how many potential customers have not come to us because they were sent to the wrong part of the city…

  • Anonymous

    Of course this is wonderful news.. Who were doing business through online very helpful for them.. Thanks a lot..
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