How to Make Compelling Video Content for Hotels

There’s nothing like video to command attention online and showcase a hotel, and yet there’s a serious lack of compelling content in the hotel industry. Why?

Producing video can be expensive and complicated, and it’s far easier to get it wrong than right. Many hotels avoid it entirely, while others play it safe, producing dull, clichéd clips of ecstatic couples clinking champagne glasses while Vivaldi exalts in the background.

Can hotels produce quality video without breaking the bank? Sure, but it’s an undertaking fraught with risk. Having suffered through countless arty student films as a film school executive (and even made a few of my own), I know what not to do. For guidance on how to do it right I consulted a few of the pros.

In-house or outsource? These days anyone with a camcorder can produce a video, but homemade productions look at best amateur and at worst like a bad eighties porn flick—without the sex. As a rule, hotels should stick to making homemade soups and pastries and leave video production to the pros. This is especially true of staff-made lip dub videos, which are almost invariably cheesy and embarrassing.

There are exceptions, of course. Basic footage of guestrooms and public areas, interviews with staff or guests, a property tour or a peek behind the scenes can be effective, provided lighting is good, the camera isn’t so jerky it’s dizzying to watch, and staff aren’t creepy. For properties with a homey feel, like B&Bs and small inns, a slick corporate video would seem out of place. In any scenario the video should strengthen the brand rather than detract from it.

Whether you produce a video in-house or hire a professional, you’ll need to start with a concept, a storyboard and a budget. And you’ll need good camera, lighting, sound and editing equipment and someone who knows how to use them.

Set a budget A professionally produced video will set you back anywhere from $2,500 to $100,000 or more, depending on whether you hire an aspiring Scorsese or Scorsese himself. The demo reel is the best way to determine if a company is a good fit. But even a big budget won’tguarantee good content—check out the YouTube channels of some of the major hotel chains for proof.

To reduce costs, partial payment in trade might be an option. In his article The ROI of Video on Websites, Stephen Saugestad of Wallop Creative recommends sharing the costs and benefits among several departments by shooting multiple scenarios: a video to sell rooms and function space, PR footage, a welcome video for guestrooms, a recruitment video, etc.

Says Saugestad, “We often allow the people who shoot video and photos to sell the assets on stock photography sites like Getty, which means we can discount the shoot by about 50%.” But he warns that footage then becomes available to the public, including competitors. In any case, before signing a contract make sure you fully understand usage rights, permissions and release terms.

A low-cost alternative is to create a slideshow with still photos, but filmmaker Jon Rawlinson warns, “A photo slideshow is not a video. People are pretty bored of zooming photos of hotel properties.”

Hire talent Featuring people in your video is a great way to bring your property to life, but you’ll need to find affordable talent with the right look. Some hotels cut costs by featuring employees, but bear in mind that the perky girl in reservations might freeze up on camera, and even the mostcharismatic general manager can come across as Norman Bates if lighting is bad and nerves are jittery. Do a screen test first, pay an honorarium at minimum and ensure everyone signs a release.

Unless you’re after the Tammy Faye Bakker look you should hire a professional makeup artist. And a professional stylist will help keep you off’s Photo Fakeouts page.

One group that produces exceptional video content is InterContinental Hotels & Resorts. “The concierge is key to our global video strategy,” says Charles Yap, IHG’s Director of Global Brand Communications. The company’s concierge-hosted videos “create conversations and encourage interactions around our positioning as a brand that puts guests in the know about the destinations they travel to.”

If featuring people is too complex, a good production company can animate the space with camera technique, lighting and post-production effects. Says Chapin Herman of Herman-Scheer Productions, “We’re passionate about sharing the story of a hotel through innovative motion to really let it shine.”

Tell a story “Produce a video that people will want to share with each other,” Rawlinson recommends. “Make it entertaining. Do something that hasn’t been done before. Get creative.”

Yap of IHG says effective video is non-promotional, authentic and entertaining. “You get a lot more engagement when you put the focus on destination experiences facilitated by your hotel,” he says.

Internet users have serious attention deficit disorder, so you’ll need to grab their attention right away and hold it in a death-grip to the end. One to three minutes is ideal; more and you’ve probably lost them. “A well-crafted video makes a strong visual impact and serves as an emotional hook to engage the user,” says Saugestad. Leave viewers wanting more—and, ideally, making a reservation.

Source the right music Chapin Herman says style of cinematography, pace and tempo and music selection are the most critical elements of video, and this requires an understanding of the audience. “A chic hotel with emphasis on style and design deserves a young and hip production with high-energy and contemporary music,” he says, whereas “a graceful pace and classy tune can be more fitting for a beachside hotel with a market for couples and families.”

Herman says his company avoids “cold and corporate voice-overs in order to allow our imagery to speak for itself” but sometimes hires a local music producer. Be aware that as much as you might love Barry Manilow or the latest Usher hit, you need permission to use other people’s work, and that can be difficult and costly. “Royalty-free music is always an option,” says Herman. Check out YouTube’s Copyright Tips and Creative Commons’ Legal Music for Video.

Optimize and Integrate Once your video is done, upload it to YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and, if appropriate, your website. Add titles, description, tags and categories to make it searchable. And make sure it’s viewable on smart phones.

Says Rawlinson, “The biggest mistake hotels make is to create a video and then not tell anyone about it. Promote that video! Talk about it on Twitter, Facebook, foursquare, YouTube, word of mouth, email, newsletters, etc.”

As InterContinental has demonstrated, great video content can be a driving force in your social media strategy. “Our videos led us to create enhanced websites with interactive maps and sample itineraries,” says Yap. The company equips concierges with iPads and has launched a free Concierge app featuring concierge videos and tips for travelers.

As we know from traveler reviews, guest-generated content can be more convincing than almost anything a hotel marketer will produce, so be sure to source and share good guest videos as part of your social media program. And lastly, keep in mind that a “viral” video might be great for the ego, but the ultimate measure of success is not views but conversions from viewers to guests.

For inspiration check out these videos:

– Leave the Ordinary Behind, Burj Al Arab, Dubai (if money is no object). – InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, especially InterContinental Tahiti Resort – London in 5 minutes, Corinthia Hotel. The future of video is interactive. – Made By Original, Design Hotels. Hotel designers as rock stars. – Demo reel, Jon Rawlinson Productions – Demo reel, Herman-Scheer Productions – Balade Poétique, l’Apostrophe Hotel, Paris. Great visual storytelling. – Hotel le Seven, Paris. The design speaks for itself. – W London. Innovation, experimentation and a big budget. – ME Cancun by Melia. Sex sells—or at least generates views. – Top 10 Viral Videos by Airlines, from Shashank Nigam.

About Daniel Edward Craig

Daniel Edward Craig is a former hotel general manager and the founder of Reknown, a consultancy specializing in social media strategy and online reputation management. He collaborates with ReviewPro as Industry Advisor, Engagement.  Daniel has 20 years of experience in the hotel and travel industries to innovative online marketing projects, online reputation management, social media strategy ,training

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