Last updated: 09:30 AM ET, Tue March 31 2015

Study Proves: When It Comes to Hotels, Image Matters

Hotel & Resort | Ryan Rudnansky | March 31, 2015

Study Proves: When It Comes to Hotels, Image Matters

You may have heard it’s a visual world these days.

But Expedia has taken it a step farther, developing a white paper that details what kinds of images travelers like.

The white paper, “Hotel Images Matter,” is based on a study Expedia commissioned in November 2014 to help hoteliers maximize bookings. For the study, participants were monitored using electromyography (EMG) technology while they browsed for hotels at Expedia’s User Experience labs in whatever manner they preferred. Whenever electrodes attached to participants registered their reactions, good or bad, participants were asked questions about the corresponding image they were viewing in real time.

“Unlike content which has to be localized for all travelers to read and understand, photos are the universal language,” said Scott Jones, vice president of global user experience design at Expedia. “Someone who has never been to your hotel (no matter what country they are from) can get a good feel and understanding about your property simply by browsing the photo gallery. They don’t need to read words. Rather, they can see what your lobby looks like, or what the rooms look like.”

“With this study we were keen to have the participants shop in in a way that was natural to them on whatever sites and using whatever methods they would if we (the experimenters) weren’t there,” Jones added. “EMG technology allows us to track users’ reactions in a really natural and organic way. You hook up an electrode to the brow, which measures the muscle contractions that signify frowning (which shows irritation, tension or concentration) and also one to the cheek, which measures the muscle contractions for smiling (delight). These reactions are so innate that people are often unaware that they’ve been triggered. Then, whenever there was an elevation in the EMG signal indicating either delight or negative emotion, we’d stop the shopper to ask them about their reaction to the hotel image. This methodology gave us the most accurate insight into the shoppers’ reactions.”

A number of findings that could make a difference for hoteliers sprouted from the study.

For one, images of bedrooms with pleasing window views that gazed out on scenery evoked the most delight from participants. These images “helped the shopper see themselves in the context of their trip,” per a release. One 41-year-old female participant said, "I can see myself staying there."

Images that displayed secondary spaces (living rooms, terraces, restaurants, etc.) with attractive vistas also evoked positive emotions from subjects.

“The delight evoked by the scene carries over to the hotel and increases the positive feeling about the hotel, even if the scene is common to the area and not exclusive to the hotel,” the release noted.

One 25-year-old female said, “I’m a sucker for cityscapes.”

Perspective, balance, distortion and lighting of hotel images were also important factors among test shoppers.

For example, being artsy when it comes to hotel images may be a bad idea. Images that were distorted, whether via a fisheye or telephoto lens, were deemed untrustworthy because subjects thought they were “hiding something.” The same could be said about dimly-lit images.

For example, one 50-year-old male subject said of one distorted image, “This one makes me feel sideways.” (Whether he meant that in a physical or a mental sense, it’s not good either way).

On the other hand, close-ups can be effective—evoking a sense of intimacy and helping shoppers "picture (themselves) there more easily”—as long as they are paired with shots that show the entire room or space of the hotel.

One participant advised, “You need to have two shots of the room - one toward the window and one back toward the closest so you can see what you really get."

The qualities of images that had the most impact on shoppers were neatness, clean design lines, light, views, spaciousness and either attractive color schemes or just clean, crisp white. Qualities that made subjects turn their noses included room messiness and clutter, clashing colors, odd angles or camera lens distortions and missing pieces/views of the room (bathrooms, closets and sometimes window shots were most commonly missing from hotel images).

One virtual shopper was disgusted that "they couldn't even take the time to make the bed” for a particular guestroom shot.

Room images appear to be the primary driver of bookings when it comes to the visual aspect. Images of restaurants (unless they had attractive vistas), the front desk, the lobby, outside building shots, local attractions and landmarks not visible from the hotel, and even meeting and event spaces were secondary, according to results from the study. This is even clearer for older travelers. The study found that as the age of the shopper increased, more importance was placed on the comfort of the room and bathroom, and images of the bathroom and closet.

Of course, there are some exceptions. Unique and attractive features of a hotel should be highlighted, no matter if it’s the hotel’s rooms or the hotel lobby. The white paper noted these features should be displayed prominently.

Given the study’s results and how differently shoppers can react to certain hotel images, it’s safe to say Expedia considers the type of imagery to be important in driving bookings, and so should hoteliers.

“Just like one negative review, one poor image can dissuade a traveler from your hotel,” Jones said.

Expedia has a backend photo engagement tool for hoteliers called Expedia Partner Central. The tool scores hotel images in a color-coded manner, indicating whether an image is acceptable (green) or unacceptable (yellow or red).

“The idea behind the photo engagement tool and the new scoring system is to provide partners with ‘feedback’ on the actions they have taken,” Jones said. “Feedback is important because we know it can drive bookings and revenue.”


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