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Hotel Photo Secrets: Why Doesn’t My Room Look Like The Hotel’s Photos?

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Hotel Photo Secrets: Why Doesn’t My Room Look Like The Hotel’s Photos?

Hotel sign - Hotel Photo Deception & How To Fight BackHey! Why doesn’t my hotel room look like the picture online?

Just as home sellers stage their houses for resale, hotels stage their
properties to look enticing to the traveling public. What do hotels do, and how
can you be aware of their camera tricks? Is there a point at which creative
license becomes outright deception?

Industry veteran Matthew Stone explains the secrets behind those online
hotel photos.

Hotels try to be accurate in depicting their property. After all, if you show up
and it’s nothing like the pictures, they’ll have to answer for it on the spot.
However, there are many ways they make their properties appear more appealing
and the pictures they don’t show you can be as revealing as what they actually

Let’s start with the guestrooms. First, the room service breakfast and fresh
flowers certainly are not included with your room, so mentally remove them from
the picture.

Hotel Room Window - Beware of the View - Hotel Photo Secrets
Do not be deceived by the view. Due to the difference
between indoor and outdoor lighting, it is very difficult to take an interior
photograph while also emphasizing the view outside, so the view is often added
later. That beautiful mountain view may have been taken from a different room

Just a few years ago, hotels may have only had one photo online to showcase a
guestroom. Thankfully, the major chains, like Marriott and Hilton, have upgraded
their online photos. Now, many show photos of each different room type, so you
can be sure the “king” room in the picture is not really an “executive king”
room (which costs more per night). Bottom line: if the hotel shows more
guestroom pictures, consider it a better representation than the hotel that uses
only one picture to showcase all guestrooms.

If the decor in the room photograph looks outdated, the photograph was probably
taken many years ago. That indicates that the room is in need of a makeover, and
you can be certain it’s seen a lot of wear since then.

To find honest photos of a random hotel room, not one that’s been dressed and
staged, look at reviewers’ photos on It’s a good sign if they look similar
in design and upkeep to the hotel’s own pictures. Most of the online Web sites
are little help, since most use pictures provided by the hotel. One exception,, may have some pictures taken by their own

If there is a glaring difference, then it’s time to pick up the phone to call
the hotel directly or book another hotel. Photographs may lie, but is unlikely
the desk clerk will, since he or she will have to admit it later. It is rare,
but not unheard of, for hotels to renovate their hotels a little at a time.

Learn more tricks of the hotel trade in our Hotels & Accommodations section

Keep in mind that guestrooms are difficult to photograph, even with wide-angle

Fish eye lense distortion on a beachFisheye lenses show the whole room, but they can also make a
small room look large; a trick of the eye that is a bit deceptive. Focus on the
amount of space between the furnishings to see how big the room likely is.

Close-up photos of room details (like the pillows on the bed or the design of
the lamp) are a trend on Web sites, but they can also avert your gaze from a
room’s small size (look at historic hotels in New York to see how this works). 

Exterior close up shots use the same trick. A photo that just shows the
shoreline may indicate that the beach is not very wide. Only see a picture of
half the pool? It’s probably a half-sized pool. Use the size of the pool
furniture to estimate its true size.

A close-up of an elliptical trainer may indicate a small fitness center. Other
enhancements, like fresh flowers in the lobby, may have been added just for the
photo shoot. This is a bit deceiving, but it shouldn’t affect the guest’s stay
at all.

Matthew Stone offers more tips on cutting through the hotel marketing haze with: How To Decipher Online Hotel Reviews

Gaylord Opryland Hotel - Hotel Photos At Dusk
Exterior shots are often taken at dawn or dusk to ensure a
romantic image.

However, since photographers are scheduled in advance, the weather is never a
guarantee, so the sky is often added in later. (No, it’s never cloudy here!)

Likewise, unsightly taxis, wires, and signs can be removed before posting
online. That’s nothing to worry about.

But what consumers should beware of are hotels that erase the buildings around
them to make their hotels look more prominent or to erase eyesore buildings
nearby. It’s always a good idea to visit Google maps to learn more about the
vicinity. First, look at the basic overhead map to see what businesses are
nearby. The hotel whose parking lot borders a cemetery will certainly never show
that on their Web site, but you’ll see it on Google maps. Then take a virtual
walk around the neighborhood to determine if you’re a block from abandoned lots
and strip clubs, or a block from restaurants and the nearest subway.

Assume that an absence of a photo means that they don’t want to show it to you.
If there is an ocean-front hotel that does not showcase a picture of its own
beach, assume it is small or undesirable. If there is no exterior photo of a
hotel, then it’s time to do your own research.

A picture can say a thousand words, and how the pictures are presented can tell
you even more. The educated traveler can use this knowledge to know what to
expect upon arrival.

By Matthew Stone for Matthew Stone is a hotel industry
veteran and a professor of hospitality and tourism, author and lecturer. Visit
him on the Web at

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