As industry giant Google makes some huge changes to the way it connects users and operators in the tours, activities and attractions vertical, Mark Rizzuto, CEO of Sydney-based technology platform Livn speaks with Travel Daily Media to discuss how they are facilitating growth and improvement in back-end technologies for the sector. Particularly with their most recent partnership with Google as Livn is claiming, creating, and powering the ‘Official Site’ button for Google’s new pilot program ‘Things to do’.
You’ve recently announced your partnership with Google. What prompted this collaboration?
MR: Google ended their ‘Reserve with Google’ (RwG) functionality in August which for operators meant a ‘Buy Tickets’ button in their Google My Business listings. Operators didn’t have the opportunity to participate in this model outside of an Online Travel Agency (OTA) partner and were often left with high commissions of up to 30%.
Instead, Google is piloting a new program specifically tailored for tours, activities and attractions called, ‘Things to do’. This means that there will be a button that takes potential consumers directly to the operator or seller’s website for a direct booking via an ‘Official Site’ button that Livn’s Open Connectivity Hub are powering, claiming and creating.
So, what’s the main difference between RwG and the new ‘Things to do’ for operators?
MR: With Reserve with Google it produced a ‘Buy Tickets’ button creating a buying flow where customers would never leave the search engine. On the back end, customers would complete their booking through the OTAs.
Searches involving smaller tour companies, in particular, would take users off to places like Booking.com and Expedia where they would complete the booking. These smaller businesses would then lose up to 30% of their product pricing through a commission to a large OTA who has bid on their name and stolen their lunch from beneath them. Plus, operators used to lose control of their product display, and didn’t really own the data from the customer journey, the OTA did.
With Google’s ‘Things to do’ solution, Google doesn’t process the bookings itself, but passes users along to the operators’ official website. Users can easily compare ticket options for visiting their favourite attractions and click through to the operators’ product page to complete the transaction.
How is Livn facilitating this ‘Official Button’? Do you take a commission?
MR: Livn is an open connectivity hub, so we’re not an OTA, or tour reservation system. Instead, via our integration, we are connecting Google to the world’s leading reservation systems, so Google doesn’t have to create single integrations.
We activate the tours, activities and attractions inventory, even if it’s complex or has timed entry which isn’t a challenge for us, we just make sure we present the right lead in data on Google and send the user directly to the website booking page. Then the customer will proceed through the booking flow controlled by the operator’s website.
We also don’t take a commission. I like to describe it as Livn being the pipe that helps Google send customers to your website where they are able to complete the booking directly.
What other benefits will this partnership bring for operators and the tours, activities and attractions industry?
MR: For operators it cuts out intermediaries and the associated costs so increases their bottom line. Plus, there are other benefits like regaining control over distribution, content, and owning the data in the customer journey. But more than this we’re helping bring smaller operators to the surface of searches.
For the industry as a whole, ‘Things to do’ creates a big opportunity to provide a richer consumer experience by giving small operators a level playing field. For example, when people search for ‘What can I do in Sydney?’ they aren’t just getting the Sydney Opera House or a walk around the Rocks, they could be getting something more unique like surfing lessons with a world champion at Bondi beach instead.
As ‘Things to do’ is still in beta, why should operators consider this as an option now rather than waiting?
MR: The main benefit for operators jumping in early is getting ahead of the competition. Because even though resellers and OTAs will not be able to claim the ‘Official Site’ label from operators, their products can be listed and booked through one of them meaning little control even though it’s on their own Google Business Listing (which also means paying that commission still.)
Operators can participate and be included in the test phase via Livn and even though things are likely to evolve as the program develops, it’s currently completely free to register.
Are there any requirements or limitations to the products that can be listed?
MR: The main one is making sure that landing page information (product and price) match what is displayed on Google. Livn works closely with operators to prepare the data to be presented on Google. So, in essence you just have to meet the minimum requirements set by Google, but after that the number of products you list is up to you.
And lastly, on a personal note, how does it feel to be partnering with one of the giants, and such a large name in the industry?
MR: It’s very exciting for all of us here at Livn, but particularly for people like our Founder and CCO Steve Martinez who has been working closely with Google to ensure the success of the partnership. Of course, when the process started, we didn’t know how hard the travel industry as a whole would be hit. But being able to facilitate Google and connect travellers and consumers to creators and sellers is exactly in line with our vision at Livn.
Tour, activities and attractions operators can find out how they can be part of Google Things to do and register for a free trial here: https://livn.world/google