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Why you shouldn't trust hotel photos

The i logo The i 22/05/2019 Rory Boland
a group of people in a swimming pool © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd

“It’s a view of a car park.” There were some expletives, to be fair.

“Sir, our town view rooms…”

“Town view? It’s a car park. With some bins.”

“Sir, for a view of the water you can pay to upgrade to one of our harbour-faci……”

“Upgrade? The hotel has the words ‘harbour view’ in its name.” I pointed to the sign above his head.

“Sir, it’s an extra [extortionate amount of money] if you want a harb…”

“How about this? I’ll pay once you rename the hotel the Harbour or Car Park and Bin View Hotel.” There were more expletives.

I'm no idiot when it comes to hotels

Getty © Getty Getty Now, I’m no fool. I know hotels have fronts and backs, and there are better views depending on your room category – but this place had slapped images of endless glistening water on the listing for every room. Big glossy shots with sunshine streaming through the windows, yachts bobbing in the water and everything right with the world. I assume that somewhere in the small print it had indicated not all rooms had water views.

Hotels using the best possible image of their property to sell rooms is nothing new, of course. And while most of us know that the photos we‘re drooling over online might not quite match the reality on check in, some of the examples we, at Which?, hear about from holidaymakers leave you blinking with incredulity. For example, you might expect the hotel to take a photo of the pool from an angle that makes it look big and beautiful, but you probably don’t expect to turn up and find that big and beautiful swimming pool is actually a paddling pool with 2ft of water – and has a sign saying no swimming.

No doubt the Browns, who contacted us about their VIP cottage stay on the Isle of Wight, knew the image of two models soaking in a bubbling hot tub had been staged when they booked. They didn’t expect the pot of lilies prettily placed in the background or glasses of bubbly featured to be on hand when they arrived. But nor did they expect to find the hot tub in a garden overgrown with weeds and surrounded by stamped out cigarette butts.  Less premium cottage more prison yard, in their words.

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Staged photoshoots

Clever photo angles and staged shoots have been around almost as long as the hotels themselves, but these tactics are at least limited by the cost of having to hire a photographer or models. It costs nothing to download Instagram or other photo editing apps. If I can make my rainy day, postage stamp-sized garden look like the Palm House at Kew with the flick of a filter, imagine how easy it is for hotels to tidy up their images.

The room doesn’t get much natural sunlight? Add some in. Construction taking place in front of the property? Just edit the cranes out. The problem, of course, is that when guests arrive the room is dark and those cranes are swinging outside their window.

These days it’s sensible to assume that just about every hotel image you look at on a booking website has had some work done to it. That might just be a bit of brightening or it could be a full cut, crop and paste. Either way, before you book make sure you search online for real images taken by travellers - most booking websites now have a section for guest photos.  

What to do if your hotel doesn't match the photos

And if you have been completely misled, such as a hotel that was pictured on the beach but isn’t or a pool that was promised but not delivered, don’t stand for it. Tell the front desk, and more gracefully than I did about my missing harbour view. It’s easy to get angry when you feel like you’ve been swindled, but it’s not the front desk’s fault the marketing team have discovered Photoshop. And you’re more likely to be moved to a better room or given a refund if you play it firm but nice.

Rory Boland is editor of Which? Travel

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