BY KATHY GIBBONS
TRAVERSE CITY — It might be the next best thing to being there.
And it could be the very thing that gets them here.
A variety of businesses around the Grand Traverse region already have taken advantage of a new "Indoor Street View" service available through Google. Akin to the search engine's outdoor Street View technology, the program enables participants to post 360-degree panoramic virtual tours of the interiors of their businesses.
"We take a camera with a special lens and walk through the interior space and create a panoramic walking tour," said Doug Willett, president of Luna Tech 3D, a Novi-based firm that brought Google Business Photos to Michigan and produces interior tours. "It brings the street view experience indoors."
Composed of high-resolution still photos, the virtual tour changes the way a company appears across Google Search, Google Maps, Google Earth and Google+ Local Business. It's also easily embedded on the business' own website and social media pages.
Travel and leisure-related businesses that qualify also can go through Pure Michigan to get their spin tours embedded directly on the state tourism site.
"They can embed this on any site, anywhere," Willett said. "A lot of people embed it on their Facebook page."
In the few months since Luna Tech 3D started shooting the indoor virtual tours in northwestern Lower Michigan, clients have had a strong representation in the hospitality industry. Wineries, coffee shops, hotels and even a bike store have jumped on board. The company also recommends them for banquet facilities.
"For us, when you've got a beautiful space, and you can show people that, with the limited amount of time people spend on a site or page "¦ they can make the immediate decision to go, 'Wow, that place looks beautiful, or different'," said Chris Baldyga, co-owner of Two Lads Winery on the Old Mission Peninsula. "You can click and walk around and find your way through the building.
"We've had a lot of people that literally said, 'Wow, what a great place, we can't wait to come see you.' I would say it has a great kind of immediate effect."
Indoor tours also increase search engine optimization and marketing, Baldyga said.
"As the number of times people take your spin tour increases, it also increases your search rankings," Baldyga said.
Corinne Briggs, director of marketing at Black Star Farms in Leelanau County, said the interior tour was a good way to help customers plan a stay or special event see the place in advance, more effectively than in a static photo.
"We have a lot of people who want to see what the inside of the inn looks like before coming to stay," she said. "And we had them do pictures of both of our special events spaces, to show people who are interested in booking the inn for private parties.
"Obviously, we're hoping it will increase some of our occupancy rates. For the events spaces, we would hope it would help increase using those rooms for private parties."
Working with Google has brought the price of producing and posting spin tours down substantially. Clients pay a one-time fee that can range from $375 to $450 for a small business to between $500 and $700 for a medium-size location to around $800 and up for a large one.
"In the past, we would have had to host those (and costs were) based on how much traffic came through," Willett said. "This is a one-time charge because Google hosts all of this content free of charge."
"Google is in the business of eyeballs, and if they can draw more eyeballs "¦ it's to their advantage."
More information is available at www.myindoorstreetview.com.