Hotel websites can mislead with pretty photos

LOS ANGELES A serene pool, a stunning waterfall surrounded by luxurious shops, and a bed made up perfectly -- these are images hotels like to showcase.

But a bed made up with rumpled linens is what a reviewer from the travel review website found when she stayed at a luxurious New York City hotel, not the room photo that appeared on the hotel's website.

On, the company posts what it calls "photo fakeouts," side-by-side pictures showing the staged images the hotel wants you to see, and what the anonymous reviewers really found during their stay.

Elie Seidman, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Oyster, says hotels use a variety of tricks to make their properties look more appealing.

"At the extreme, it's actually cropping out buildings, cropping out phone wires, electric wires, making the pool seem bigger," said Seidman. "So if you get down on your knees, get close to the pool, you crop out the edge, it's actually going to look a lot bigger. So when you arrive, it's a bathtub. In the brochure it looks like a beautiful pool."

A Hawaii resort posted a picture of paradise: a couple walking along a tranquil beach. The reviewer snapped a shot of the beach from the same angle, but this time showing giant cranes and construction fencing for a new resort.

A buffet at a Caribbean resort was sparser and a lot less appealing when the reviewer showed up. And a traffic light magically disappeared outside a hotel on Miami's South Beach.

The London West Hollywood is a hip hotel off the Sunset Strip that caters to high-end travelers and celebrities.

On its website, a picture of the hotel's balcony is dressed to the nines with plants and fresh fruit. found the balcony rather plain with nothing but a table and a lounge chair.

The Sofitel Los Angeles is a Triple-A four-star resort on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles. A photo of the hotel pool on Sofitel's website is inviting. In fact, the same picture taken from the same angle shows up on Orbitz,, and Expedia's websites.

An Eyewitness News producer using a digital camera found the same alluring pool, but right next door to the Sofitel is a giant Macy's store that's part of the imposing Beverly Center across the street.

The pool shot that they put in their brochure and on their website makes it look like it's in a tranquil environment. They just cropped out the Macy's in the background.

In fact, the Sofitel is also across the street from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, one of the busiest hospitals in Southern California.

When we interviewed Seidman, Oyster's CEO, we saw several ambulances and fire trucks whiz by with their sirens blasting, all right across the street from the Sofitel.

Oyster's reviewers often take hundreds of snapshots of the hotels they stay in, giving travelers a true sense of what they can expect. says hotels often Photoshop scenes in which a fake light is imposed on a Miami hotel's gazebo.

Another popular marketing tool is to use models to pose in front of near-empty pools that are often packed with guests., which is a free website, has hotel reviews of 14 cities and islands, far less than its competitors, although the site is rapidly adding more hotels and more destinations to its database.

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