Manipulated Hotel Photos: Worse Than You Thought

Last Updated Apr 30, 2010 7:05 PM EDT

Oyster Hotel Reviews recently released its "Photo Fakeouts" or good-looking publicity photos from hotels compared to less-attractive, real photos taken by Oyster staff. The comparisons were startling -- pools shot at unique angles to appear larger, skylines airbrushed, huge department stores looming over hotels cropped out, hotel gyms looking spacious or landmarks made to appear closer than they were.

Most people know that any business is going to put its best face forward and show you the best rather than the worst. But hotels may have crossed the line when cropping out buildings or airbrushing city skylines.

Real estate agents did the same thing to listings and still aren't in agreement. Eating disorders and an unrealistic body image are argued to be the result of airbrushing and photo manipulation, while some gossip mags also exaggerate or smooth out celebrity flaws. But how much of the photo-fiddling is based on artistic composition and how much is an intentional attempt to mislead?

As I looked at the marketing photos and the photos by Oyster, I noticed a lot are aimed at small-sized pools. Personally, I don't care very much about hotel pools but apparently someone must. One photo of the Ayres Hotel in Hawthorne, Calif. has such minor differences (flowers and teacups) that it's almost petty.

The photos I consider misleading are those that promise views and don't deliver or hide the fact that construction is actively going on. That's actually learning more towards deliberate deceit. There's a tiny print warning on the Four Seasons Miami website that says:
Photographs are an example of room quality only. Some items may have been rearranged or added, and views may differ. Please refer to the written descriptions for specific physical details and views.
Why have the warning if your hotel doesn't think it's being a trifle misleading? For a hotel that can be broken by several negative online reviews, I would think it would be to the benefit of the property to show real photos so guests won't write to TripAdvisor whining about how the hotel was nothing like the pictures on its website. (By the way, those words typed into Google received 3,390 hits just on the TripAdvisor domestic site and 7,290 on the UK site. Photographer beware!)

I don't think there's anything wrong with favorable angles or images, but there is a line that can be crossed. If you are promising your guests something that can never be, it's time to order new photos.

Photo: (Top) Gran Bahia Principe Punta Cana and Oyster Reviews (Bottom) Four Seasons Miami and Oyster Reviews
  • Barbara Hernandez

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