In the past, hotels have had a tendency to neglect aspects of their online marketing. The hotel has a website, but the site is a decade old. Or perhaps a front desk clerk set up a Facebook page once upon a time, but it hasn’t been revisited in a year. Both of these examples are better than nothing, but they are also prime examples of missed opportunities for hotels in the digital space. The most strategic way for a hotel to market itself effectively online and have the most impact on the web is to incorporate many channels and to keep these channels current and consistent. Will 2018 be the year more hotels adopt this holistic marketing approach?
One commonly neglected marketing material is a hotel’s photography, and any hotel looking to ramp up its online marketing should look at new photography as a good place to start. Images are more powerful than ever before, and hotels should be aware that photography can be the difference in a guest booking with a competitor, for nothing more than the competitor’s photography is more appealing. Investing in new and beautiful hotel photography will have hoteliers set up to take their online marketing to another level in 2018.
I spoke with Jeremy Mason McGraw of Global Image Creation, a company specializing in travel photography, to gain further knowledge of the hotel photography process. The following notes should give hoteliers insight into the growing importance of utilizing updated photography.
What are the most important aspects a hotelier should look for when hiring a professional hotel photographer?
There are a few important skills, but first, a hotelier should ask to see the photographer’s interior images of other comparable hotels to see if the photography holds up to global standards. Since selling rooms are ultimately how a hotel makes money, a hotelier needs to really make sure the photographer can present the photos with the same standards that the hotel embraces for itself. Interior photography is a totally different skill than most other types of photography and many clients don’t initially realize that. It is common to see websites for beautiful hotels with stunning images of the beaches and exterior spaces, followed by drab, uninspiring images of the rooms and interiors. Different styles of interior photography suit different tastes, but consistency from room to room is very important for a hotel. When travelers are deciding to book a room, the images are what they are using to make that decision. The only way to make consistent images in a wide variety of room environments is for the photographer to light the room. Mastery of lighting is essential for a consistent look, particularly when an on-site time is limited.
How often do you recommend a hotel gets new photography taken?
Different types of photography play different roles in sales and marketing. A hotel should get new room and facility shots after renovations and updates in those areas. If seasonal tourism is a factor for a destination, seasonal images will be needed to depict the hotel experience during the different times of the year. If a hotel practices content marketing, then it might want to consider regular shoots to capture life at the hotel on an annual or biannual basis.
Can you briefly discuss the process that occurs on-site during the photographing?
I see my job sort of like a translator. I hear the clients’ needs and learn about their audiences, then I work with them to make images that communicate their visions. This is 100% a collaboration. The marketing directors usually have a good idea of the areas on which they want to focus, and who their clients are. Sometimes the smaller hotels need help with the marketing message, but mostly they need me to be the person that knows how to communicate their message in an image.
I always start every hotel project with a planning day. We walk around the spaces and I hear the hoteliers’ ideas. We talk about shooting times and features that make each space unique. We consider what amenities each room should have on shoot day. Housekeeping, F&B, Floral, Marketing/Sales, and Operations departments all participate in this conversation. On shoot day, my assistant and I work to set up the spaces and make the shots while coordinating all the elements that need to be in place at each location. As we shoot, I offer digital previews of every shot for the clients to sign off on before we move to the next shot. If the clients don’t like what they are seeing, we can change things up to ensure they get what they need in the end. It is a collaborative process, and it helps to make it a fun, happy experience!
The rise in social media has also meant an increase in user-generated photos. Do you recommend hotels use these “non-professional” photos in their online marketing? How so?
We live in the golden age of social reviews and content marketing. There is more access to user-generated content than any point in history, and its influence is unavoidable, positive or negative. I think it makes sense to embrace user-generated content as long as it is presented that way, and in the right context. User-created content is best used to maintain the community of a hotel’s followers, and by embracing users’ enthusiasm for a hotel’s offerings, it builds a stronger connection with this community. Social media marketing is a big world built around relationships, and while many people will have a voice there, in other aspects of marketing there is no substitute for high-quality content from a hotel. In social media marketing, you are having an informal conversation, but in hotel marketing, you are selling the dream! They are two different worlds. The images a fan creates can be substandard images but still act as a grand endorsement for the hotel in social media because it is a first-person referral. That same image presented in the context of formal marketing would communicate that the hotel places very little importance on its appearance and does not seem to care. It is like the difference between a great film and the fan fiction it spawns. Embrace your fans, but make sure you maintain your standards in everything you do.
Jeremy went on to also note that photography should be invested in in the same way a hotelier would invest in the physical space of his hotel. Obtaining new and current photos of a hotel’s property is a great way to kickstart a cohesive online marketing strategy in 2018 because the foundation of the marketing materials will be all ready to go!