By Henry Woodman, CEO, IcePortal

In the ancient pre-internet days, booking a hotel was a much simpler, and honestly, a less informed affair.

Let’s say you’re planning a weekend trip to New York. You’d go to your local travel agent and they’d go through their list, maybe offering up a Hyatt in Manhattan. You know Hyatt, you’ve stayed with them before, and the agent recommended it, so you say, “I’ll go with that.” After all, it’s not like you have a massive online directory with images, details, and user-generated reviews at your fingertips.

Naturally, things have evolved. Today, most hotel research and booking is done online, much of it through OTAs, and the way that OTAs convey information to viewers has shaped how potential guests make travel decisions.

In the last decade as OTAs evolved, photos grew larger and were placed more prominently on the page. Suddenly, independent hotels had the ability to compete with known brands, offering detailed photos, location information, and pricing. Prospects could better “see” the property and whether this new hotel had the same standards of cleanliness and service as the larger brands.

In my 16 years with Ice Portal operating a content platform which has grown to 60,000 hotels, we’ve discovered some important, evergreen best practices on how to optimize hotel images. These best practices are always important, but today, in this tumultuous time for the industry, they have never been more important.

What Makes a Good Image?

What helped sell rooms pre-COVID will still help sell rooms tomorrow: Pictures, price point, and the top bullets in the description. Images are often the first thing a viewer will look at. Today, images are even more important because images make an immediate and lasting impression and can have a positive (or negative) psychological impact.

Good images show good value, level of service, and location but they also show the property’s cleanliness. In a postCOVID world, when guests are looking for a place to stay, they will have one immediate question: Will I be safe from COVID staying at this property? Your photos will need to show that the staff is taking the necessary precautions in terms of sanitation and hygiene. This could be done with images of housekeeping cleaning common space or rooms or of hand sanitizer, masks or other PPE that are readily available for guests. Images could also include contactless features or behavior signage. When showing people in your images, also make sure they appear to be safely socially distanced.

As always, the images you use on OTAs, your website, and social media must also be concurrent with the actual guest experience. We all know the repercussions if one falls short of this: negative reviews leading to a tarnished reputation and declining sales.

The most important features of the images of your hotel, however, haven’t changed: They must be bright and clean. Even if a room is spotless, if it is not well-lit, it will appear less clean, so get the lighting right and remove unnecessary clutter!

How to Use Images in a Post-COVID World

No doubt COVID-19 has caused guest behavior to change for the long term. Guests will rightfully demand cleanliness and will need reassurance that they are safe. Images that reinforce this messaging will have a strong positive psychological impact. Remember: bright and clean!

It’s important to note, too, that this desire for a “clean” stay is nothing new. Guests have always expected and desired certain levels of cleanliness. Your goal, then, is to simply amplify the existing story of cleanliness to help guests be more aware of your efforts, while taking the additional necessary precautions to minimize risk. Ultimately, the objective is to remind and, yes, show that you’ve always cared about your guests’ health.

I’ll leave you with a final example. Historically, when browsing OTA listings, people will look at pictures of bathrooms. In fact, Expedia and Booking.com recently implemented a new requirement to boost content scores where hotels must have at least one photo of the bathroom for each room type. That may sound funny, but bathrooms give the most immediate impression of hygiene and cleanliness, and guests do take that seriously. Booking.com, Expedia, and others are reinforcing this by requiring it.

So keep your property clean and show it off in beautiful pictures!


Henry Woodman is founder and CEO of IcePortal, a content distribution system that grew out of his decade-long career as a travel film producer. Today IcePortal helps over 60,000 hotels and resorts, manage, and deliver their visuals to 1000s of online travel related websites.

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