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Google tries boosting Greek tourism -- and maybe itself, too

The search titan is touting a program to help Greek companies expand the country's tourism economy. Could be it'll also improve Google's image in Europe.

Google Maps shows plenty of hotels in Crete along the Mediterranean coastline -- and ads for tourists who might want to book a room.
Google Maps shows plenty of hotels in Crete along the Mediterranean coastline -- and ads for tourists who might want to book a room. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Google wants you to visit Greece for your next vacation.

Or at least, it wants to give Greek companies some online assistance in attracting tourists through its Grow Greek Tourism Online program. With the program, Google so far has tried helping 600 small and medium-size companies tap into the power of the Web, according to a blog post Monday by Dionisis Kolokotsas, Google's public policy and government relations manager in Athens.

What could be behind such largesse? Google has some demonstrated philanthropic instincts, but in this case, perhaps there's also a desire to be seen by European governments as a constructive influence, not merely a disruptive one.

The search titan has tangled plenty with European governments over issues including search dominance, its relation to the news media, its promotion of its Android apps, the right to be forgotten from Google searches, the company's collection of Wi-Fi data and its Street View photos of houses. Anything to improve Greece's dire financial situation would doubtless be welcome in Europe.

Google didn't respond to a request for comment.

Certainly, Google is aware of the economic benefits of tourism. It points to statistics that tourism is responsible for 17 percent of Greece's economic activity. and powered by the Internet, is demonstrating, a high potential for growth And it points to a study that predicts tourism can help Greece's economy grow 3 percent and get 100,000 new jobs. Google suggested that a big boost come from lengthening the tourist season in the country.

And the company has a direct interest in the tourist economy. The more people use the Internet, the more they use Google in general, and the more they use Google, the more opportunities it has to show search ads. Travel is a category that's very amenable to advertising, too -- as is obvious in Google or Google Maps searches for terms like "Crete beach hotel."

The program, which began on the Grecian island of Crete, follows a Google exhortation last December calling for more Web-savvy tourism businesses southern Europe, including Greece, Spain and Italy. In that post, Google encouraged companies to post up-to-date information on multilanguage Web sites -- their own as well as travel sites. It also suggested businesses use social media and online customer feedback mechanisms.

Speaking of social-media promotions, Google also pointed to the Greece National Tourism Organization's Google+ page, which currently has more than 1.4 million followers.