Tourism leaders try to rid Google of unflattering photos of the county

6:08 a.m. Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 Business
Instead of a blurry image taken on a rainy day at Mounts Botanical Garden, Palm Beach County tourism leaders suggested this photo of Mounts’ new exhibit, Windows on the Floating World.

Palm Beach County tourism officials are on a mission to rid Google of unflattering, outdated or inaccurate photos of the area’s cultural attractions and top travel spots.

Discover The Palm Beaches, the county’s tourism marketing organization, is using a Google Pixel phone with an app that allows the agency to flag images that it says are either inappropriate or don’t accurately represent the county’s tourist destinations. Discover is using the phone to submit new images to Google that may be more appealing to out-of-town travelers.

The agency also is using the phone to help local business owners “instantly verify” their companies on Google. The feature gives business owners more control over the information posted about their companies on Google.

Rich Basen, a Discover senior vice president, said the non-profit agency was the first tourism marketing organization in the country to use the special phone and Google app to scrub the search engine of unflattering images. Miles Partnership, a private marketing firm hired by Discover, helped the non-profit get access to the phone and app as part of a pilot program, Basen said.

“We understand that there are a variety of ways for people to get information,” Basen said. “We are just trying to stack the deck in our favor to ensure that the destination imagery is shown in a world-class manner.”

Discover is slated to receive roughly $16 million in tourist tax dollars to pay for its marketing efforts for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Of that, up to $474,000 goes to Miles for marketing efforts that include the new Google photo program.

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Google searches can be an important tool to win over travelers.

“Often, users will not visit any particular website, but will do a search and exploration process all within Google’s search results page and its destination pages,” said Nate Huff, senior vice president of Miles Partnership. “This is an opportunity for Discover The Palm Beaches and local businesses … to reach an enormous new audience to entice visitors to come to this destination.”

Since launching the program last year, Discover has uploaded to Google more than 350 new images, including 360-degree photos. In a 2½-month span, the images were viewed more than 500,000 times, Discover said.

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Among the items the agency flagged and requested Google remove: a photo of an uprooted tree that until recently would pop up in a Google Maps search for Seminole Palms Park in Royal Palm Beach.

In its place, Discover added two new photos: an image of a well-maintained children’s playground at the county-run park and a photo of the facility’s baseball field under a sunny South Florida sky. Other photos on the page came from the public.

Discover also asked Google to remove a blurry image that would display when users searched for Mounts Botanical Garden. The image, taken on a rainy day along Military Trail, did not show the garden.

Instead, Discover asked Google to update the search results with two new photos taken inside the garden. One of the photos shows Mounts’ new exhibit, Windows on the Floating World — a far more fitting image of the popular attraction, officials said.

Discover also is working with local business owners to optimize their company’s online profiles. Late last year, the marketing organization held a workshop for tourism-related business owners who wanted help improving their image online.

“From a business stand point, there is not somebody you can just call for customer service with Google,” said Kristl Story, owner of West Palm Beach Food Tours. Story was among about 50 business owners who attended Discover’s workshop.

“My website, that is my storefront, and people need to find it,” Story said. “Google is really important to us.”