Under the influence

27 December 2018

The rising popularity and influence of Instagram means hotels must invest in striking and unique design to attract customers. Hotel Management International hears from experts on the Instagram effect and the steps designers need to take to maximise this new source of exposure.

As the popularity of Instagram continues to grow, so too does the need for hotels to have the most picture-worthy interiors. Competition in the now social mediaobsessed tourism industry is rife, and design can provide a vital edge.

Some hotels are going to extreme lengths to provide memorable and photo-friendly interiors as the hotel market faces added pressure from the popularity of players in the rental market, such as Airbnb. What makes a place Instagram-friendly is more than just simply being photogenic – it has to be design-led, envy-inspiring and have a level of cool that shows off the poster’s taste.

The UP Hotel Agency works with a number of operators, including Firmdale Hotels in London, which feature distinctive Kit Kemp interiors. The company says it has noticed a trend of travellers opting to stay in the more ‘instagrammable’ hotels over options with less striking interiors.

“Instagram is influencing conversions for many of our hotels, appearing in the conversion path at some stage – mostly within the early stages of the flow, where potential guests familiarise themselves with the hotel brand, and other guest experiences from checking in at that location,” says UP Hotel Agency’s head of digital, Richard Plant.

The Charlotte Street Hotel in London, part of the Firmdale group, is popular on Instagram for its elegant facade, where soft sage paintwork is complemented by dark foliage and the building’s distinctive London-stock brickwork. It is symmetrical, stylish and pictureperfect. Inside, the murals in the Oscar Bar and Restaurant provide a striking backdrop. It’s a world away from an identikit chain hotel. “In essence, I think there is a new breed of traveller looking for something different,” Plant explains. “Experience is everything.”

This trend is not limited to leisure. “Business travel has changed,” Plant says. “Many industries realise that the big chain hotels, like Travelodge and Holiday Inn, are an antithesis to the creativity and productivity that they require, so are looking for creative places for their staff to stay at – and to snap on Instagram.”

Owain Powell, also of UP Hotel Agency, notes that hotels need to embrace the Instagram trend if they want to appeal to today’s generation. “They are prepared to pay a little more for a unique experience and take a risk in the search of something special, rather than booking in at hotels with rooms that tend to all look the same,” he argues. “These places were a niche in the industry but for many travellers and business bookers they are becoming a staple in reinvigorating the pleasure and creativity of travel.”

Certain hotel design features are Instagram catnip. The majority of posts by @beautifulhotels, an account with 3.1 million followers, feature azure-blue water: a shimmering private pool, or a palm tree and parasol-decked beachfront. A beautiful view is a guaranteed draw – but it’s no good if the hotel itself doesn’t feature in the image. Bold colours, luxurious materials, and quirky and individual elements are all popular. In hotel bathrooms, spa-like marble interiors, good lighting and deep baths are a must, while colourful walls decorated with slogans provide great photo opportunities. At the Red Dot Hotel in Taichung City, Taiwan, refurbished by Steven Wu and Wang Pe-Jen, a slide loops its way into the lobby. It’s no surprise that this is a popular post on Instagram.

Unusual hotel design is a ticket to Instagram success. Many posts of the Library Hotel in Koh Samui feature its striking red-tiled pool, a touch echoed in the hotel’s red parasols. At London’s St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, opulent gothic Victoriana sets the stage for images by influencers such as Italian Eleonora Rocchini (950,000 followers).

Instant gratification

The St Pancras Renaissance leant into its social media popularity, installing a kiosk for visitors to print their Instagram photos in 2016. “Social media is a huge part of our marketing strategy, and something that is becoming more important as we see more returns,” Madeleine Duxbury, the hotel’s marketing manager at the time, told Digiday UK. “The idea behind this is to incentivise our guests to become influencers.”

The role of influencers in the travel industry is growing, and some hoteliers have expressed disgruntlement concerning the often numerous requests they receive for free stays. In early 2018, the owner of the Charleville Lodge in Dublin posted a diatribe on Facebook and announced a ban on bloggers after receiving a pitch for accommodation in return for exposure from a YouTuber. While some might consider this an underestimation of the value an influencer can add, it certainly led to internet notoriety and significant exposure for both the vlogger, who posted a tearful response, and the hotel, which was mentioned in write-ups from news outlets across the world.

This is not the only example of hoteliers pushing back against the rise of influencers; a piece by The Atlantic featured luxury resorts bemoaning the deluge of unsolicited requests for freebies they received. “Everyone with a Facebook account these days is an influencer,” Kate Jones, marketing and communications manager at Dusit Thani’s Maldives resort, told the publication.

Infinite reach

Nevertheless, the reach from a well-received post by a popular Instagrammer can be enormous. An image of US travel influencer Jay Alvarrez in a dramatic infinity pool overhanging a cliff at The Edge resort, Bali, has been liked over half a million times. His caption to the post includes the hotel’s own Instagram handle, directing followers to a carefully curated feed brimming with images of attractive guests, including other influencers.

While in the past Instagram served as initial inspiration, planting a seed in a follower’s mind that might months later become a definite trip, the distance between ‘liking’ and booking is reducing rapidly. On The Edge in Bali’s feed, Instagram’s addition of action buttons mean that just one click can put through a call to the hotel. Influencer Christina Vidal (@jetsetchristina) has partnered with platform TRILL, meaning reservations can be made directly from her posts, while easyJet has recently got in on the action with its Look&Book app.

Charlie Worrall, a digital marketing executive for contemporary interior company NGI Designs, agrees that appeasing Instagram users is the unavoidable future for the hotel industry. “You either love it or you hate it when people are on holiday and all they're doing is sharing the photos they've just taken in the lobby, the room, the bathroom, balcony and much more,” he says. “While they can be a bit excessive, it presents a great marketing opportunity so you're going to have to step it up a little, make sure your decor isn't out of date, and that the style or theme you've gone for works well.

“A timeless design is key. Most will want to stay in a hotel that evokes style and luxury while being affordable. And if they go on Instagram and see that you haven't got this, they won't stay with you.”

A strong sense of place evoked through design is a popular feature. At the Riad BE in Marrakesh, colourfully patterned tiles, typical of the region’s artistic heritage, line the pool area and rooms. They are an elegant subject for a photograph in their own right, especially when paired with turquoise water and palm fronds; they are also an ideal backdrop for the kind of stylised portrait that has given rise to the phenomenon of the ‘Instagram boyfriend’ (a significant other willing to take the numerous snaps required for the perfect post).

However, Worrall believes the next hotel interior trend will be a greater emphasis on technology.

“One of the next big trends, in my opinion, will be the digital walls. We've seen products like the wallpaper TVs. This is essentially a TV that can be stuck to your wall with tape – although it isn't advised,” says Worrall.

Today’s generation are prepared to pay a little more for a unique experience and take a risk in the search of something unique, rather than booking in at hotels with rooms that tend to all look the same.
– Owain Powell, UP Hotel Agency

“LG’s version is only 6mm thick and has a slight bend tolerance too. This means that it can be attached to the wall without having a big effect on the surrounding areas.”

Sadly for the hotels currently trying to enter the Instagram-obsessed market, competition is stiff. Many of the most popular hotels on Instagram already had elaborate and picturesque interiors even before the rise of social media. For architects and interior designers, then, there is significant pressure to produce stand-out designs in order to catch up.

Hotels are now partnering with Instagram influencers to make booking easier.
With over three million followers, the instagram account @beautifulhotels can influence a hotel’s success.
The elegance of Charlotte Street Hotel, in London's Fitzrovia, makes it an Instagram favourite.

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