The world of glossy airbrushed photos of idealised hotel rooms has long gone. Today’s travellers expect transparency. They want to know exactly what to expect when they check-in. They read reviews and comments, they browse user-generated photos and Google Images. Increasingly they are expecting a virtual tour and – when hotels with this option generate 48% more bookings than those without – it pays to give it to them.
In case you hadn’t noticed, Google has changed the way its virtual tours work for hotels. Each area in the property is treated as a separate area with its own standalone tour. Lobbies, restaurants, bars, gyms, spas, bedrooms, suites and gardens can all be accessed and explored separately via a row of thumbnails at the bottom of the screen.
This has two effects: The first is that users can now jump more easily between different parts of the hotel with far fewer clicks, and the second is that the tour becomes the major part of the hotel’s profile on Google Hotel Finder. This disruptive booking platform has put virtual tours front-and-centre. Hotels with a tour are flagged immediately in search results, and the tour itself gets prominent position on the hotel’s profile summary, where the 360 imagery of bedrooms, bars, restaurants and facilities all appear ahead of traditional still photographs.
That might be because fully 92% of internet users indicated that the ability to see a spherical panorama or a 360 degree photo of a viewed product is one of the most essential features when they are browsing online.
Jay Scott-Nicholls of aardvark360, who specialise in Google virtual tours says: “We’ve seen exploding industry demand for hotel virtual tours. A year ago we were doing one a month, now it’s every other day. In the last month alone we’ve worked with everyone from family-owned boutique places, to trendy newcomers like The Hoxton and established global brands like Hilton”.
Beyond specific platforms like Google, interactive content can make the difference between first and second page positioning in the competitive arena of Search Engine Optimisation where hotels are forced to take advantage of any boost in rankings. Virtual tours increase page views by 40% and keeps visitors on-site for three times longer – all of which does not go unnoticed by the search engine crawlers.
A hotel is not a single product. It’s not just about the room – it’s about the facilities, the service and the style too. Businesses with the confidence to throw open their doors to online explorers are the ones who will earn the trust of the internet-savvy traveller.
 Survey by Best Western
 Adobe Scene7 Viewer Study: What Shoppers Want
 Pew Internet Life Study