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'The sexy lady' and other hotel photo tricks

By A. Pawlowski, CNN
  • Many travelers gripe that hotels don't live up to their marketing photos
  • Careful framing, zooming and cropping can turn a hotel from frumpy to great
  • has a popular feature that examines the art of the hotel photo fakeout
  • Common tactics include showing an attractive woman or an empty beach

(CNN) -- The official hotel photos showed off a sparking pool, lush palm trees and a stunning waterfront location, but the online review from a recent guest wasn't so pretty.

"Travelor27" felt that the resort in San Diego, California, just didn't live up to the lovely pictures.

"We couldn't believe it when we pulled up. Where was the hotel in the photos?" Travelor27 wrote in a review titled "Website Photos VERY Misleading" and posted last month on

Another poster let loose about a hotel in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

"The pictures on the internet look rather appealing, however, they are EXTREMELY MISLEADING. THIS PLACE IS A DUMP," fumed Summer228.

All travelers have been there at one point or another, because it's hard not to fall in love with the gorgeous marketing photos that hotels use to entice guests. Who can resist swaying palm trees, pristine beaches and luxury decor?

But buyer beware: That resort advertising itself as an oasis of peace may turn out to be next to a noisy construction site. Or you may find that the beautifully appointed room in the photos is just another generic hotel space when you get there.

Welcome to the art of the hotel photo fakeout, where careful framing, zooming and cropping can turn a property into paradise -- or at least a place where you'd definitely consider booking a room.

"Quite often, it's very remarkable what the hotel marketers think they can get away with," said Jennifer Garfinkel, the editor at

The hotel review website has a popular feature that busts photo fakeouts by comparing marketing images with more candid pictures taken by its undercover reviewers.

Take the Hyatt Regency Washington, which shows off its proximity to the U.S. Capitol in its marketing photo (see gallery above). But the landmark seems much farther away when snapped in a casual photo.

The image is "probably the well-intentioned work of a skillful photographer using a telephoto lens," says.

The picture was taken with a long lens "in order to accurately portray the hotel's physical proximity to the Capitol building, which is indeed two blocks away," said Tammy Hagin, director of public relations for the hotel.

"Photography and videography quality can vary greatly depending on the technology/equipment used to capture images. Our standard practice is to accurately portray our hotel," Hagin said.

Here are some other common tactics hotels use to entice you with pictures:

Taking a photo from a certain angle

This is often done so that you won't see a building looming over the pool or the beach.

"Some would argue that's not (wrong). You're not Photoshopping; you're just being clever, but to us, that's still being dishonest, because the person is going to be disappointed," Garfinkel said.

Getting dressed up for picture day

Accessories can make an ordinary hotel room look extra cozy or opulent, so you might see lots of special touches in a photo that won't materialize when you get there.

"The same way a kid in elementary school is going to put on his Sunday best for his picture, you'll see hotel photos with flowers, champagne bottles, laptops set up, and of course when you get to the hotel room, those things aren't going to be there," Garfinkel said.

Zooming in

Caution: Objects photographed in this way may look larger than they appear.

"This is especially common with pools," Garfinkel said. "They show you only part of the pool; they zoom in really, really close ... so that you can't see how small it really is."

Sexy lady phenomenon

Resort marketing materials will often show an attractive woman surveying an invitingly empty pool.

"The reality is, the pool will be covered with screaming kids or there's a raucous pool party going on, but what they want you to think is that it's completely empty except for this one woman who is always very sexy," Garfinkel said. "Marketers for hotels absolutely love this."

What you can do

Some hotels do go to extremes and use Photoshop to take out a lamp post or insert a beautiful sunset in the background, but that's not quite as common, Garfinkel said.

So what can you do to help make sure the hotel you book meets your expectations when you arrive?

Be smart about your sources when you become interested in a property. Many popular travel websites rely on marketing materials that were provided to them by the hotels, so they're not good research sites, Garfinkel said. Check out sites like TripAdvisor, which allows you to see hotel photos submitted by guests, or, which includes photos taken by undercover reviewers.

Also, don't be afraid to call the hotel after you've booked a room to double-check what you're really getting.

"You can ask them, 'I know I have a city view room, but what does that actually translate to?' They should be open and honest with you," Garfinkel said.

Finally, remember that hotels have their own interests in mind, so take what you see on their websites with a grain of salt.