Testing and Learning the Dos and Don’ts of Hotel Imagery

Investigating every facet of the customer experience through exhaustive testing and learning is a core value across Expedia Group. With the scientific method as a guiding principle, our company-wide dedication to examination, analysis, and iteration underscores our dedication to create the best experience for our consumers, partners and advertisers.

Our User Experience (UX) Lab has a robust history of implementing this core value through various approaches, including A/B testing and, most recently, the innovative science of electromyography. For the uninitiated, this process entails using electrodes taped to various parts of a test subject’s face to measure his or her emotional response to images on a screen. An electrode affixed to the brow can identify frowning, while one on the cheek detects a smile.

So when the idea of testing online shoppers’ reactions to various types of hotel photos arose, there was no question that our UX Lab could construct a study that would generate valuable results chock full of best practices for hoteliers to implement.

The experiment’s goal was simple: identify the kinds of photos most likely to encourage hotel bookings online. The team used electromyography to track eye gaze and facial expressions as subjects browsed online for hotels, monitoring positive and negative responses to a variety of pictures.

One overarching finding indicated that the quality and features of hotel images play a major role in a customer’s decision to book a room. As Hotel Images Matter, Expedia’s recent white paper detailing the experiment’s results, put it, “several types of images and image attributes were found to consistently evoke emotional reactions in shoppers.”

Exactly which kinds of image attributes elicited the most favorable emotions among consumers? It turns out, it’s all about the view.

The predominant images that triggered positive consumer feelings about a hotel were those of a bedroom with a window view, especially one that offered a pleasing vista and an abundance of natural light streaming into the room. This type of photo helped shoppers picture themselves staying in the room, creating an instant connection between the consumer and the hotel.

Positive response EMG Reaction: Shopper’s verbal response “I’m a sucker for cityscapes.”

Hotel Images EMG Reaction

Image with eye gaze focal points

Hotel Images Expedia Group Eye Gaze

Beyond just a bedroom setting, the concept of a delightful vista extended to photos of other areas of a hotel, such as living rooms, terraces, restaurants, and additional common spaces. The scenes most favored by potential guests were those deemed beautiful or interesting, such as a cityscape, beachscape, or famous landmark. Also effective at enticing online shoppers were photos showing any unique or attractive features of a hotel, the study found.

As for what drew negative responses from subjects, one of the most prevalent turn-offs for customers was the use of distorted images. Any photos that were not well lit or that had been taken with a fisheye or telephoto lens were regarded as suspicious by the study’s participants. These subjects felt the hotel was trying to “hide something” by using distorted photos, and also grew confused by shots deemed “too artsy”.

Finally, the photos that drew the most positive responses displayed rooms with clean lines, good light, an attractive color scheme, spaciousness, and a lack of clutter. Moreover, pictures showing multiple features of a room, including bathrooms and closets from both close-up and wide angles, made guests feel they were getting a complete, accurate perspective of the room, and were thus more appealing to the study’s participants.

The findings indicate that imagery is a powerful tool that can provoke emotion and potentially influence travel research decisions. The use of hotel imagery can range across a series of channels from your own website, partner sites, as well as in your advertising creative. Consider the following to ensure you are being thoughtful about the use of imagery to best represent the experience of your property:

  • Consider how you are marketing your hotel through imagery, and how that can inform a potential customer’s interaction with your property online.
  • Ensure that this interaction is enrapturing enough to evoke a strong sense of connection between the consumer and the property’s rooms, common spaces, and other features. Do your photos allow prospective guests to see themselves there?
  • Get creative with how you position your product by tapping into all of the alluring visuals your hotel has to offer, whether it be scenery, cuisine, landmark views, or other attractive features specific to your destination.
  • Image accuracy, clarity, and transparency are essential to engendering trust in your brand among potential customers.

To learn more, download the Hotel Images Matter whitepaper.