Photos play a key role in marketing the hotel – whether it is through the hotel website or through 3rd party channels. It also is an important component of a hotel’s positioning across different distribution channels including Online Travel Agencies (OTAs).

On many occasions, however, the emphasis continues to be mainly on aesthetic aspects with the somewhat false belief that as long as they are gorgeous photos, that will sell the hotel. The link between photos and positioning the hotel in terms of value and pricing is less understood. Equally, there also is a limited understanding of what needs to be done with photos to maximise conversion and drive direct bookings.

This is especially true of boutique hotels, where the images need to visually describe what the guest is about to pay for, while also conveying the overall experience and emotions that they are likely to experience during their stay.

Relevance and impact

So why is it so important? An authentic hotel experience is a sensory affair and high quality, relevant images help connect with potential bookers. It gives them a chance to visualise themselves having the experience communicated through the images. As such, it means that the images cannot be wildly fantastical or unrealistic but authentic.

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Very often, bookers pay attention to photos that are relevant and contain specific information and tend to ignore the elaborately made up or less relevant images.

user experience study by Expedia found that “the predominant images that triggered positive consumer feelings about a hotel were those of a bedroom with a window view, especially one that offered a pleasing vista and an abundance of natural light streaming into the room. This type of photo helped shoppers picture themselves staying in the room, creating an instant connection between the consumer and the hotel. “

“The experiment’s goal was simple: identify the kinds of photos most likely to encourage hotel bookings online. The team used electromyography to track eye gaze and facial expressions as subjects browsed online for hotels, monitoring positive and negative responses to a variety of pictures.” Read more details of the Expedia experiment.

What is most important

Good hotel photography is a big investment and should be planned for as such. It drives all your marketing efforts and supports the promotion of your hotel on all online and offline channels. And when you include social media in the mix, it becomes even more important.

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While detailed room photos have been proven to be key to conversion, the eye-catching images or exteriors are critical in attracting initial attention as well. While reviews are probably the biggest influencing factor in the final booking decision, the early stages of the booking journey are far more influenced by the imagery and communicating the experience visually.

Hotels tend to beef up their authentic (and expensive) photos with stock photos. While this may be needed on many occasion, it is important to keep them to a minimum. If you are looking for high-quality royalty-free stock photos, Pixabay is a great resource.

Planning for good photos

Whether you are a new hotel getting a set of photos done for the first time or one doing a refresh, planning ahead will have a great impact on the final output. Work with your team to identify a list of shots that you are looking for and have the shot list ahead of time for the photographer. Alternatively, work with the photographer ahead of time to discuss and run through the specific output that you are looking for. After all, you are spending good money on it (or should be) and the results have a direct impact on conversion and revenue.

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Some areas to brief your photographer and set expectations could include identifying examples of photos that have worked well in the past, how many shots of each area that you require, more horizontal versus vertical and the primary use ie mainly for web etc  

Consider a combination of wide shots as well as portraits and close-ups. Lighting is very important and a good photographer will be able to make the most of the natural and artificial light available. Too much light and the photo loses its detail. Too dark and it loses it makes the photo rather dull and lifeless.

Light plays a critical role in the final image quality.   Too much natural light can wash out space and result in overexposed areas that detract from the final image quality.  Too little light can make the space feel dark and lifeless.  The importance of light also makes the timing of the photoshoot important and worth planning for.

Best Practices

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  • Plan photoshoot sessions keeping light patterns and seasons in mind.
  • As rooms with higher ceilings photograph better, identify rooms with high ceilings where possible.
  • Avoid rooms that require a high amount of room lighting – where possible, photograph rooms with more natural light.
  • Ensure that these rooms including their windows are thoroughly cleaned.
  • The bed is the centrepiece for room photos. It’s important that all bed linen is ironed, the bed made up extremely well and no wrinkles are visible.
  • Avoid print collateral being captured as it can make an image look cluttered. Equally, collateral may change and the photo can then appear dated.
  • Identify a list of unique features and areas that need to be photographed and form part of the hotel’s story and authenticity. Ensure they are ready to be photographed.
  • Keep the settings as natural as possible and do not add props just for the photoshoot that you wouldn’t use normally.
  • Plan how you want to capture human presence in these photos. Human presence is required for some of the photos. However, it needs to be kept to a minimum. For example in a lobby photo, some people far away in the background might work well but too close that the viewer ends up paying more attention to the people in the photo defeats the purpose.
  • Some examples of items that can be used to indicate human presence include – a weekend bag, a Filofax or diary on the work desk, a jumper on a chair, reading glasses and a book on a bedside table, a jacket in the hallway etc
  • For the exterior facade of the hotel, try and get a mix of different angles during the daytime, dusk, and nighttime. Make sure that there is also an image of what the building really looks like when you approach it
  • Rooms – shoot every room category. Add some human presence, a jacket on a chair, a pair of sunglasses on a bedside table or a toilet kit in the bathroom.
  • While taking photos of bathrooms consider taking the photo from the entrance/doorway to the bathroom. Where it is an accessible room, you may want to capture the height of the washbasin to know whether a wheelchair user can access it.
  • When taking photos of meeting rooms, showcase flexibility with photos of different layouts that are in demand.
  • For restaurant photos, try to create an inviting atmosphere, through setting the tables, lit candles etc. Ironed table linen is important along with well-ironed, folded napkins
  • For leisure facilities like a Spa, it will be important to get some photos of specific services available like the massage rooms, beauty treatments, or sauna.
  • With pool and beach areas, consider using a photographer who can take photos with a drone.

You may find this Expedia Checklist useful in planning.

Quantity of hotel photos

With hotel photos playing such a key role, it has become widely accepted that a hotel should have a wide range of photos of all areas. Previously, a set of 20-30 photos were considered sufficient. In today’s online merchandising environment, even a small hotel should aim to have at least 50 high quality photos and upward.

Quality & Resolution of hotel photos

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According to Booking.com, they seek photos with a high resolution: a minimum of 2048 x 1080 pixels but preferably 4000 x 3000 pixels.

Booking.com also advises avoiding photos of guests, models or property owners, ones that display nudity, photos of logos, branding, awards or contact details among others.

Photos & Website speed

The challenge for modern-day websites is to find the balance between high-quality images (that are likely to be heavier files) and page loading speed. Websites that take time to load are conversion killers. The best hotel websites load in 2-3 seconds. Ensure that your photos are optimised for size to support fast website loading. A slow-loading website may also be penalised in search results by Google.

Choosing the right file type is important – JPEGs are preferred as they provide the best quality v’s small file size ratio.

You can check your hotel website’s page speed using Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool. Or https://gtmetrix.com/

Photos & Search Engines

Search engines not only crawl the descriptive content on your website but also through your image file names. This means that it is important to label each photo descriptively using simple language. Keywords should be considered as part of this process.

Equally important are the alt attributes. These are text substitutes for images when they are not displaying correctly. It also makes the image accessible for less able users.

Consistency in distribution 

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For an independent boutique hotel, managing image distribution can be challenging. This is especially true with each photo representing the authenticity and uniqueness of the hotel. Older photos strewn around on obscure channels cause a lot of unhappiness both for the hotel and for potential bookers.

After a refresh, it is important for the hotel marketing team to audit hotel images across its distribution channels and ensure that all the important channels are updated.

Lastly, beware of the dangers of not refreshing images and/or misrepresentation in this article – where photos don’t match reality!

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