A picture may be worth a thousand words…but most hotel PR & Marketing managers today would be at a loss for words at the plague of user generated photos out on the Internet today. Hoteliers may need to get used to the fact that competing with their ‘official’ previews of what to expect, past guests have provided quite an unflattering visual footprint for those to follow. It’s no secret that hotels pay thousands of dollars for painstakingly taken, doctored photos that would entice even the most hardened globetrotter to positively drool in anticipation…and hit that book button. Great pictures DO sell.

Just as the transparency offered by the Internet in terms of rates has given many a hotel revenue manager gray hair, the ability to easily share rich media on the web promises to do the same for the marketing ilk. One only needs to turn to photos posted on TripAdvisor or Flickr to obtain unflattering photos of virtually every nook and crany of your hotel these days. Plus aesthetic slip-ups and the dreaded ease with which users can now take and publish photos online virtually guarantee that any dirty rooms, dropped drinks, deteriorating facilities and other ‘oops’ moments get their 15 mintues (or perpetuity) of fame on the Internet (as if old high school photos resurfacing on Facebook wasn’t bad enough!).

So is it all bad news?

Well…maybe it’s not ALL marketing kryptonite.

With web and mobile applications constantly evolving, the range of tools at the modern traveller’s disposal is positively mind-boggling (and delicious, for the geeks among us). In a lot of cases, guests have provided content and filled in gaps that hotel marketers didn’t even know existed! Consider just a *few* of the things you can do these days when on holiday:

  • Research the hotels where you plan to stay, complete with detailed blow-by-blow accounts of previous guest experiences and “real” photos of the facilites. Comparison shop, obtain email alerts of airline & hotel price drops and get the Internet to build your itinerary and share it for you as you book.
  • Take low to high resolution photos on the fly with your iPhone, Smartphone or Blackberry. Increasingly, the quality of photos and videos taken by mobile devices is catching up with digi-cams and camcorders.
  • Share or broadcast these photos and videos immediately via email, personal / public blogs, Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other media sharing / streaming / hosting services.
  • Geo-tag photos with a physical location…and have them show up automatically on Google Earth, for example.
  • Find your way around the local area using mobile GPS, user-generated placemarks & photos…as well as web services like virtual tours, route fly-throughs, Google Street Views and more.

These are just a “few” of the things you can do…and the list keeps growing. Prototype technologies like Microsoft’s PhotoSynth promise to go even further, i.e. do for photos what hyperlinks did for the Web (everything!). PhotoSynth literally relies on thousands of user photos to recreate a scene that allows users to experience a virtual, 3-dimensional photo and the ability to view detailed aspects of any location without ever leaving your chair (or home!). With technologies like these, the concept of virtual tourism doesn’t seem so far-fetched or relegated to the ranks of agoraphobes anymore.

Much like parents teaching their child how to ride a bike…and unwilling to let go lest he/she should fall…hotel marketers need to learn to let go. Rather than tear our hair out trying to keep questionable photos and content off the Internet, hoteliers need to listen, watch and engage the community when they create this content…and supplement where necessary. At the end of the day, pictures will always tell their story as only pictures can…our job is to ensure that those roving digital eyes find a story worth telling…one befitting the true potential of our products and services.

– JJ

About the author: Jitendra Jain (JJ) is the founder of various online initiatives like http://www.hotelemarketer.com, http://www.thetalentjungle.com and http://www.younghotelier.com (among others) that dream, connect, educate and share all that is glorious about hospitality, technology and most importantly…the people that define our times.

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