The Truth About Your Visuals

What Every Hotelier Should Know

By Henry Woodman Founder & President, ICE Portal | May 31, 2015

How many times have you heard the expression "content is king?" I've been hearing it since the early days of the Web, now commonly referred to as the Internet. Lately we're bombarded with a new spin on the content is king mantra - "content marketing." By definition, the word content is very broad, encompassing text, graphics, audio and visuals. For the purpose of this article, I'm going to narrow the focus to visuals – photos, videos and 360 virtual tours.

What is content marketing, and why should you, the hotelier, care? The content marketing institute (yes, there really is a content marketing institute) defines content marketing as: "A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience - and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action." There are two key take-a-ways: valuable and distributing. Are your visuals valuable, and are you distributing your visuals everywhere?

What makes visual content valuable? Simple, it appeals to your target audience. That appeal can resonate with prospects who take the next step, the payoff "to drive profitable customer action" – a booking. Digging deeper, what exactly appeals to your target audience? This is not a simple answer. We are all different, each person's psychographic and demographic profile makes them unique. The goal is to visually resonate with your target customer. Visual content drives engagement. For example, just one month after the introduction of Facebook timeline for brands, which included photos and videos – brands saw a 65% increase in engagement.(1)

It doesn't take a genius to tell you that visuals increase engagement (that's a good thing since I'm no genius). Researchers have determined that 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed by the brain 60,000X faster than text.(2) Would your prospective guests rather read a description of your property, the lobby, the restaurant, the rooms, etc., or see visuals? Visuals win every time, that's why the photo gallery section of your website usually gets the most views.

Recent studies have quantified the value of visuals for hoteliers. Starting with image size – it does matter! According to A/B testing done by Visual Website Optimizer, larger images resulted in a 9.46% increase in sales. There was a time, back in the days when we were connecting to the web with a phone modem (for the millennial reader, that's a device old folks used to dial a phone number, and connect to the internet) at speeds of 28K and 56K (yawn), so if you blinked, you wouldn't miss a thing. Larger images were slow to load in the early days of the internet – even though users were a bit more patient than we are today, it still was not a great user experience. Times have changed.

Internet speeds have increased, and consumers now expect large or even full screen visuals. Why? Because we're visual beings, and most of us (myself included) do not take time to read. Website visitors read at most 28% of the words, on a webpage, during an average visit; 20% is more likely.(3) According to Cornell University a study released in 2014, Using Eye Tracking to Obtain a Deeper Understanding of What Drives Online Hotel Choice, participants fixated on images more than any other type of content when considering and selecting a hotel. Hoteliers need to to evaluate their visuals from their prospects point of view. How do your visuals measure up to the expectations of your prospects – are they displayed in a small window? Is that the best way to sell the property? The consumer says no.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.