You’ll have seen them on Facebook or Twitter – listicles headlined something like: “What hotels really look like compared with their brochure photos.”

It’s a prime example of one of the worst things you can do in tourism marketing … over-promising and under-delivering.

The listicles invariably show side-by-side shots of the offending hotel. They’re just the thing to give anyone in travel PR a shiver down their spine.

Shared online, they are littered with examples of the pitfalls of travel agency marketing campaigns.

There’s the photo that looks like half a swimming pool but is actually a cunningly framed snap of the whole thing.

Personal favourite

Then there’s that deserted beach on the hotel’s doorstep that was only deserted because the photo was taken at sunrise.  

And let’s not even think about the disappointment of the all-you-can-eat buffet in the resort compared with the picture online that would have had Henry VIII booking up.

One of my personal favourites in the genre is the pic of a model holding a surfboard in a Florida hotel’s pool, sun gleaming on the blue water. The real pool is about the size of a hot tub.

The thing is, listicles are funny to read even if they are a nightmare for tourist industry public relations teams. And the situations they expose just aren’t funny for the holidaymakers dishing out their hard-earned cash for holidays that only exists inside a clever photographer’s camera.

The importance of getting the first impression spot-on in travel marketing has been amplified in the age of social media. The industry has to get it all right, or be exposed.

Word of mouth

What once travelled by word of mouth now leaps around the world in an instant.

Complaints that were until recently kept reasonably private now get posted on TripAdvisor, aired in tweets and plastered across businesses’ Facebook pages. Anyone can see them and anyone can weigh in with a comment.

The best way to avoid the bad publicity is to not provide an opportunity for it in the first place.

The way to avoid disappointed clients, and to enhance your reputation, is simple: just don’t lie.

You say your hotel is the last word in opulent luxury? It had better be opulent and luxurious.

Exquisitely presented

Bragging about the exquisitely presented meals in your restaurants? Make sure every dinner looks more than good enough to eat.

There’s a noisy construction site next door? I wouldn’t take a picture of it, but it’d be a good idea to let guests know about it when they book up.

The thing is, if your business is doing everything it should properly, the images look after themselves.

All you need is a talented photographer. Bring in someone who knows how to light a subject and frame it for the best effect and Hey, Presto! No need to stage photos or do any tricks.

A picture speaks a thousand words – so make sure those words are true.