Hotels are partnering with Google to change the way travellers can view hotels even before they walk through the front entrance.
Best Western International on Thursday will announce the launch of Google Business Photos for all 2,200 of its North American hotels.
All hotels will have the virtual tours online by the end of 2014.
Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, parent company of Radisson, Radisson Blu, and Country Inns & Suites, this month started a pilot program of the service with an initial rollout at its hotels in Chicago, Miami and metro Washington, DC.
Google Business Photos are 360-degree tours powered by Google Street technology.
Many businesses have used the technology since Google introduced it in 2010, but a growing number of hotel companies are now adopting it.
“It will allow you to virtually experience the hotel in the same way you would if you were there,” says Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Best Western.
“We personally believe that this is going to be a game-changer in the industry in redefining how photos will be consumed by the consumer.”
The photos are taken by photographers trained and certified by Google.
Their still photographs are stitched into 360-degree views using panoramic camera technology.
Travellers can see the photos when they search for the hotel on Google Search, Google Maps, Google+, and Google Hotel Finder.
They’ll be able to take the interactive tours on their computers, smartphones or tablets.
The hotels also can link to the images from their websites.
“Photos are a critical component people rely on when researching hotels and ultimately deciding to book a hotel,” says David Pavelko, Travel Partnerships Director at Google.
“To date, photo quality has been inconsistent and there hasn’t been any great innovation in this space.”
According to market research firm PhocusWright, 44 percent of travellers have looked at professional photos when choosing a hotel.
That is up 4 percent over last year, says Douglas Quinby, vice president of research for PhocusWright.
Many hotels have incorporated virtual tours on their websites in the past, but hoteliers say the Google photos are more consistent.
Consumers also have more control over the experience by clicking on arrows that will take them in various directions.
“Guests are able to get a better feel for a hotel through these virtual tours than by just looking at static images,” says Jackie Astleford, senior director of E-Commerce for Carlson Rezidor.
“Since the 360-degree panoramic virtual tours are taken by Google Trusted Photographers, guests know that these tours are created by a trusted, third party.”
Chekitan Dev, marketing professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and author of Hospitality Branding, says other hotel companies will have to think more about visuals to compete with their counterparts.
“Because people react differently to photos than they do to simply text, brands that show photos of their properties will steal market share from those that do not,” he says.