For the past four months, the eTourism Summit staff had been working with the Google travel team, Hayley Lambert, Kallie Stephenson and Shaun Aukland to create a pre-conference site visit to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, just 45 minutes south of San Francisco. We, the nearly 90 delegates to the just concluded eTourism Summit produced by North American Journeys, arrived at the sprawling Google business campus on a warm and sunny 80-degree day. We were divided into four groups, each led by a “Googler,” who volunteered for the tour guide task. (We later learned that $50 credits for massage service provided a nice incentive for those who volunteered.)
Our up-close peek at this epicenter of Silicon Valley provided us with an insight as to what keeps Google employees regularly working 10-to-12-hour days: a management approach that strives for an environment that encourages its personnel to think and create formulae, algorithms and logical constructions—not merely achieve production goals or output quotas—in order to remain the world’s largest Internet search engine.
Nonetheless, the extent to which Google nurtures a creative environment and its employees astounded eTourism Summit delegates, especially those who work for non-profit DMOs and like organizations. Some of perks we saw included, but were not limited to, the following:
Free breakfast, lunch and dinner available for everyone, with a full-service restaurant, café or snack stations available in every building.
Laundry and dry cleaning service stations at several locations.
Several cavernous fitness clubs, fully staffed with trainers and aides.
Beach volleyball courts located in the shadow of a building architecturally that was architecturally designed so as to shield them from creating a sandstorm when the wind whipped off San Francisco Bay.
Fastidiously attended vegetable gardens.
Campus bikes in familiar Google colors (blue, red, yellow and green) available everywhere for transportation between buildings.
A fully staffed medical clinic
Dogs out and about in a pet-friendly and pet-welcome environment.
An unstated, but nevertheless often realized benefit is the possibility of an impromptu talk or lecture by a visiting dignitary—from Presidents to Nobel Prize recipients—which are common. Two weeks before our group toured, Lady Gaga stopped by Google to say hello.
While there were no swimming pools, our tour took us along a catwalk between buildings. We looked down to find two hot-tub spa-sized “current” pools—swimming treadmills, really—that were both in use, watched over by a full-time lifeguard who seemed to be reading a novel. According to one of the tour guides, this mini swimming center came about when founders Serge Brin and Larry promised employees that a pool would be installed when YouTube, which they acquired in 2006, became profitable. (It obviously became profitable.)
We ate Google’s Lunch. Seeing all of these free benefits created a longing, hungry feeling in all of us, so it was off for a three-minute ride to the company’s Crittendon campus, located next to LinkedIn’s headquarters, for lunch and our scheduled workshop. We were given a choice of four gourmet buffet restaurants—Mexican, Asian, Indian and Vegetarian.
• Nearly 90 percent of travel buying decisions are influenced by online information and the online experience, whether it’s at the research or booking stage.
• Online travelers look at an average of 15 websites, at least twice, and spend an average of two hours 24 minutes researching.
• Those who go online to make a booking visit an average of 26 websites for a total of more than four hours.
One revelation had a special impact on everyone. That is, Google’s research has shown that, as each of the three travelers profiled in our workshop were in the travel planning process, the most opportunistic time for a supplier/destination to change their mind them was during what they refer internally as the “Zero Moment of Truth” (ZMOT), a point during the travel research phase at which the traveler may be on the cusp of clicking on a purchase but is still open to alternatives. The mother of a family planning a Florida vacation, for example, was first tempted to click on a Texas beach resort ad that appeared next to search results for Florida. As she grew closer to booking the Florida destination, ever-more enticing ads featuring ever greater value-added and discounted offers the Texas beach hotel kept appearing. Ultimately, the savings convinced her to book the Texas destination.
Alas, all Google things must come to an end and, after our workshop, so did our visit. But we were told that we were one of only two travel groups to visit the campus this year and the only one to receive a full tour. There was much to ponder and discuss on our way back to downtown San Francisco and the start of the eTourism Summit program the following day, but attendees felt like they had access to special world that few people from the outside would ever have the opportunity to see.