The rising role of photography in a COVID world and how this can instil confidence in a hotel brand

Michelle Chaplow of Hotel Essence Photography outlines her five top tips for instilling guest confidence in a hotel brand.

2020 is like no other year: the current global pandemic is one of the greatest challenges that the hospitality industry has ever faced. In terms of hotel bookings, trust is a key factor for potential guests, so that they can feel safe enough to make new reservations.

As far as hotel imagery goes, properties are having to rework their photography portfolios in order to demonstrate empathy and understanding for their guests, who may be feeling apprehensive about venturing out. Quality hotel images lie at the very core of this messaging, to instil renewed confidence in their experience.

“We very consciously created a selection of new images to portray reopening in a new world with new customers looking for new experiences, in both The Balmoral and Edinburgh itself,” says Stephen Walker, director of sales and marketing at The Balmoral in Edinburgh. 

He added: “Although all of our hygiene protocols are in place we chose not to lead our messaging on those, based on the feedback from guests staying in our sister Rocco Forte Hotels which opened before The Balmoral.”

Nothing is as fast and effective for communicating messages as an image. Did you know that the brain interprets photographs 60,000 times faster than words? Words are made up of letters, and therefore take far longer to decipher, however a picture or a photograph we can read almost immediately.

Amanda Hyndman, area vice president at Mandarin Oriental, explains: “We have all heard the expression ‘a picture tells a thousand words’. It is not often that we showcase behind-the-scenes or unstaged images, but we felt it was relevant and right during such a time of uncertainty to keep our guests genuinely informed, engaged and reassured.

“The B&W images and video were intended as a slightly nostalgic and humble approach to the re-opening before we launched a full-colour brand movie – i.e. colourless without our guests, to full colour when they return and the business truly comes back to life.

“What truly differentiate us is our colleagues, and it was therefore essential to find a way to show the passion and commitment of our team while each and every one of us navigate through this new beginning.”

So it goes without saying that quality photography will a send quick yet powerful message to hotel guests, imparting the trust in a hotel’s safety measures that will encourage a booking. For a casual browser to book, you need to win their confidence.

“I love design, and visual engagement really works for me personally, but also within my businesses,” says  Anne MacDonald, owner of The Old Manse of Blair in Pitlochry. “You have immediate presence with professional photography, and you’ve already reached your audience when your photography engages a second glance. The conversion from spectator to customer is quick!”

Back in March and April, during the lockdown, many UK hotels kept their audiences well informed, ensuring that they remained firmly on past and future guests’ radar. Two properties whose imagery particularly caught my attention were Rockliffe Hall in County Durham, and the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London. Rockliffe Hall regularly posted images on their social channels depicting their beautiful grounds with stunning floral displays. 

The hotel’s managing director Jason Adams told us why it was so important to send out those images. Like a steadfast captain at the ship’s helm, at times he was the only person in residence during the lockdown.

“Having an entire five-star hotel to myself throughout lockdown was a surreal experience having only started my role here, literally a few weeks before,” he said. “I felt that posting positive images from in and around the hotel would lift not only our team members at home, but our guests, members and industry peers. I received a huge amount of comments about the photographs they really put a smile on people’s faces in these strange times.”

The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park chose to put out some black and white images before reopening, offering a “behind the scenes” reportage-style preview of this iconic hotel – preparing uniforms, cleaning rooms – which worked extremely well.

Hotels can provide reams of written material on anti-Covid measures – and so they should; we all need to know that safety and hygiene are a priority, as we browse a hotel in view of a potential booking – however it’s the photographs that will provide essential visual reassurance of this “new normal” in hospitality.

With the lockdown behind us, and children returning to schools, here are my five top tips for how can hoteliers use photography to instil confidence in a hotel brand. 

• Refine your image gallery. Just as we have done in our homes during lockdown, now is the time for a good clear-out of your image gallery. You need to edit the photographs of your hotel to fit the readjusted 2020 reality. Ask yourself, does each image work for the new normal? 

• Sell your location and show space. Do you have beautiful gardens?  Are you situated near a tree-lined avenue, an urban green space, riverside walks, or the beach? Guests will love to be reminded that these wide open spaces are on your doorstep, easily accessible, and will therefore enhance their stay. Likewise, show space for social distancing in restaurants and communal areas. Guests need to know that they will feel comfortable eating and drinking at your hotel. People need plenty of convincing to leave home these days, and hotel photography is the perfect way to communicate the feeling of visual reassurance that all will be well.

• Keep it clean. While the viewer needs to get the distinct impression that your hotel is spic and span and meeting all hygiene standards, you don’t want to swing too far towards the soulless clinic feel. Photos still need to show those details that provide warmth and character. It would be ideal to have at least a small selection photographs of staff with protective masks in both a guest and cleaning environment to use if required in your Covid section; they will convey visual reassurance, and in the future they will portray a period in your hotel’s history. 

• Only the best photography should make the grade – imagery that portrays your hotel in the most flattering light. If you have a limited number of excellent quality images, use them, but them alone. Be selective.

• As always, be authentic. This is an age-old maxim that shouldn’t be forgotten amidst new marketing campaigns and health regulations. Authenticity is the key to showing your hotel guests that you care about them. Images should draw attention to details from your hotel and the local area, arouse curiosity, highlight your uniqueness, and answer the question: “What do we have that others don’t?” 

There is no doubt that photography is a powerful tool for sending out reassuring visual messages during these challenging times. 

As Anna Cort, global director of hotel programmes at Kiwi Collection, says: “In a world where the specific needs and requirements of travellers are more important than ever, accurate, high-level photography is the key to form a trusting relationship between the traveller and the hotel and/or brand.”

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