Oct. 27, 2009— -- Ever check in to a hotel, only to find it hard to recognize from the photos on the Web site?
That spacious room with lots of natural light is actually an oversized closet facing a brick wall. That quiet pool overlooking the sea turns out to actually be next to a highway, near the ocean. And that gym with state-of-the-art workout equipment looks a lot more like your high school gym class.
Now a new hotel review Web site, Oyster.com, is trying to expose some of these kinds of discrepancies through a popular blog that it calls "photo fakeout."
"We are just trying to show that what you see in the photos is not what you are always going to find," said Will Begeny, editor of the site.
The blog highlights some of the tricks that hotels often do to make their properties look as pretty as possible. There are over-generous crops, creative angles and pictures taken early in the morning before the crowds take over the beach.
Begeny said that none of these are dishonest but noted that some are bending the truth a bit more than others.
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For instance, one Miami hotel shows on its Web site a surfer with a wet, see-through T-shirt climbing out of the hotel pool, surfboard in hand. The problem, the pool is roughly the size of a hot tub. Not really much room for the model, his surfboard and anything else. But you would never know that looking at the hotel's Web site. In fact, the tightly cropped photo is the only pool shot on the site.
"The priorities are different. When the hotels are taking the photo, they want to sell the hotel," Begeny said. "Of course, we don't fault somebody for trying to sell the hotel."
The Workout Room Without a View
Then there is the Jamaican hotel with a beautiful workout room, with stationary bikes overlooking the ocean. A hot guy and girl are checking each other out. Sounds like a great place to get some exercise, right?
Well, when the Oyster reviewer visited the Holiday Inn Resort in Montego Bay they did find the cardio gym equipment and they did find pretty views. They just didn't find them together. Instead, the stationary bikes were in another room, a room without the view.
"And it's yellow, which we assume is supposed to make you happy enough to forget about the fact that your expectations of ocean breezes and hot, confident and into-you dudes on cardio machines have been thwarted," wrote the reviewer.
A spokeswoman for the hotel's owner, InterContinental Hotels Group, said the hotel, which is located on the beach, does have a workout area overlooking the beach. It is located on the other side of the wall of the gym from the yellow room. Sarah-Ann Soffer said in an e-mail that the hotel's photo, which is still on its Web site, "was an accurate photo at the time it was taken."
"The cardio machines used to be housed there, but the hotel has been going through extensive renovations and they have since moved the cardio equipment," she said. The area pictured on the hotel's Web site is now used for floor exercises.
InterContinental said the photo Oyster took is outdated because of further renovations since the Sept. 1 blog posting.
"The hotel is currently working to have the photography updated as the renovation nears completion to depict the new look of the hotel's amenity offerings," Soffer said.
Begeny said that the floor mat area during the visit "was basically a boarded up building that saw no use whatsoever" and that it is clear that "there are changes and renovations going on."
"As far as we could tell at the time, it appeared to be a permanent sort of location," he said, adding that Oyster is happy to revisit the posting.
Oyster did remove one "photo fakeout" posting from its site after ABC News contacted the hotel featured. The hotel said changes had been made since the photos were taken.
The Beach of Your Dreams?
The Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa features 32 photos on its Web site. Some of them are of the property and others are of surrounding sites and beaches. Oyster took umbrage with a photo of a crystal-clear beach captioned "Rejuvenate at beautiful Lanikai Beach." That beach is about a 30-minute drive across the island from the Hyatt and often-crowded Waikiki Beach.
"Listen, all we're saying is that you shouldn't expect the beach behind your Hawaiian hotel to look much like the beach that particular hotel has pictured on its website. The real thing may be a different beach altogether, a big patch of sand densely populated with children and their inflatable beachgoing companions," Oyster said on its blog.
It's not quite fudging the hotel's appearance, Oyster said, but a "somewhat misleading inclusion of photos of deserted beaches in photo galleries on hotel websites."
A Hyatt spokeswoman said it is the company's standard practice "to accurately portray our properties, their features and amenities, as well as showcase the destinations in which they are located."
She noted that there are captions on each photograph in the gallery identifying what or where it is.
Katie Rackoff, the Hyatt spokeswoman, noted that the chain's hotels around the world hire photographers to cast the properties in the best light.
"These professional photographers often take photographs in public spaces of our hotels early in the day or in the evening to avoid disrupting or inconveniencing guests and other travelers," Rackoff said.
Begeny said it is one thing to try and cast a hotel in the best possible light, but another to show a beach so far away from your door.
"That I think is grossly misleading," he said. "I think you are sort of misleading your guest to believing one thing about your property."
A Better Jacuzzi
When Oyster visited the Breezes Montego Bay in Jamaica back in June, the reviewer was asking: that's the Jacuzzi? The one the hotel promotes on its Web site features a couple embracing, surrounded by lush plants, some lounge chairs and a great sunset.
When visiting, Oyster found the Jacuzzi looked nothing like that. There were no fancy tiles in the water, no lounge chairs and no pretty plants. Oyster accused Breezes of doctoring the photo, saying that such staged photos are all over the Web.
The hot tub still looks nice and even in Oyster's photo does have a great ocean view, but it clearly isn't as upscale as Breezes would like you to believe.
A spokeswoman for SuperClubs, the parent company of Breezes, said the company has dropped the hotel and its old management from the collection. The Jamaican bank that owns the property said a new company has not been found to lease and run the now-empty hotel.
The Waterfall Dance Floor
Finally, we travel to Las Vegas and one of the hottest nightclubs around, Tryst at the Wynn Las Vegas. Oyster takes issue here with the photo and angle that Tryst uses to promote its club and waterfall.
Looking at the hotel's site, Oyster says: "you'll be tempted to pack a suitcase full of cheapie heels and leave your prized Jimmy Choo collection at home because, it would seem, you'll be dancing in a pool of water."
Well, that's not the case. The dance floor is near the waterfall but is on dry land. As Oyster says: don't worry about ruining your shoes, unless some guy "spills his vodka-Redbull all over your fave pair of pumps."
Wynn spokeswoman Jennifer Dunne said the hotel's photo and Oyster's were taken from two different angles.
"There is in fact an interior and exterior dance floor which opens up on to a lagoon and waterfall," she said. "Our official resort photography is taken by some of the best architectural photographers in the business. The images depict the genuine resort environments and experiences."