By Rebekah Thompson.
Rene Zimmer, General Manager of Hotel Finca Cortesin, was featured in “Top 10 German Hoteliers Working abroad”. Finca Cortesin has received numerous awards and accolades from the likes of Conde Nast Traveller, CNN, and Gallivanter’s Awards for Excellence, to name a few. Rene certainly knows the luxury hotel industry, but does he see photography as an essential investment? We talked to him at home in the gardens of Finca Cortesin to find out.
How many years of experience do you have in the hotel industry?
I have been in the hospitality business for about 23 years. Prior to Finca Cortesin I worked for Orient Express Hotels for nine years, in Mallorca and Russia.
During your time in the hotel industry, have you ever been responsible for hiring luxury hotel photographers?
With Orient Express, as in many other corporate hotel chains, photographers are mainly chosen by the head office. As a manager you have some influence, but usually these decisions are made by the head office, by corporate and marketing. Here at Finca Cortesin it’s an in-house decision, between PR, Marketing and the General Manager.
At Finca Cortesin we have our own specialist, PR manager José Lumbreras Fernández de Córdoba, who looks after the aesthetics of the shoots, in the photos themselves and the ads. I am involved from an operational point of view, and I have my own opinion about how it should be done, but at Finca Cortesin we have a very clear creative concept of how we want our photos to be. We work with the photographer to try and fulfil these ambitions.
How important is photography for Finca Cortesin?
For us the photography is very, very important, because if you see our brochure, it is only photos – no text, just a book of photos. This is so that we can give our potential guests an idea of what you can experience in the hotel via images, rather than words. On the website it is the same, so photography is very important, and we invest quite a lot of money into this area. We have a yearly budget for it, and we know which photos we need to renew each year or for the next season.
Our photography schedule depends on the garden – we have to make sure that the flowers are blooming. The weather is quite stable, so that isn’t a problem, but we have to follow the flowering cycles of the gardens. Vegetation is very important for outdoor photography. Interior photos are less problematic; we can do these at any time of the year, although they are still dependent on the light. We’re planning to do food photography next year, and we have different chefs now, so we need some new photos of the kitchen.
Do you feel that Finca Cortesin needs to invest more in photography?
Absolutely, I don’t think you would find anyone who would say no. Especially nowadays with social networks, people post photos everywhere; the way you present yourself visually is very important. It is very important to invest a good part of your budget in photography.
What elements do you consider first in a candidate’s proposal when selecting a photographer for a shoot? Budget, timing, experience?
First the quality of the photographer – you want to see the work they’ve done before, what types of hotels and products they’ve shot, because you want to see the competition, although the techniques of the photographer are important too, to see how they get their results. Attention to detail is key; the photographer has to think like a guest. They cannot take a good image of a property if they haven’t experienced a least some elements of it. They have to get a feel for the hotel.
Would you ever initiate a shoot or project yourself, or would it always go through marketing?
Originally we had some photographers who came through the owners, who already had a relationship with them. But after the first year we realised we needed different images, because the services and the staff had changed. So we started to look for photographers who could give us a distinct style which suited us. Also we had to find someone who knew our market.
Is photography a priority within your budget?
It is one of the priorities – not the top one, but it’s up there. When you do a marketing budget you have to assess what the needs of the hotel are, what you have to spend on each aspect – marketing, PR, travel etc. But you need photography for all these things, because it is involved in every aspect. So, yes, it’s a priority, especially here at Finca Cortesin.
How do you feel when you see a poorly-shot photograph of your hotel in a magazine or online, on Trip Advisor for example?
With smartphones, the quality of photos is getting better and better; sometimes you see photos and you think “Wow!, especially on Twitter. People are taking top-quality images on their phones these days; three or four years ago it was a different story, photos were not so good, but now it’s all changed. Also talking about good and bad photography is a matter of taste; I think it is very subjective.
Does a photography crew affect the day-to-day running of the hotel?
It depends how you operate; we try to fit crews around the hotel guests. I get very nervous about this, that’s why normally I am not around for the shoots. It can be complicated because the photographer needs a certain angle with a certain light and you have people on sunbeds, and you have to try and work around the guests without disturbing them, and try to compromise. We have one person in our team appointed to be the stylist and design the photo with the photographer, to choose the right aesthetics. This is better because if you have too many people giving opinions then you never get the work done. You have to get the right team to make the right decision.
What do you think is the rationale behind the lack of investment in photography by hotels?
The only thing I can say for sure is that if you don’t invest, you will be left behind. I cannot speak for other hotels; they have a system that works for them. You cannot allow yourself to fall behind; life moves much more quickly these days, so you have to move with it. Today’s budget has to suit today’s market; the amount of investment depends on the outcome you want. Good photographers are expensive, but we are a good hotel; we are expensive because we provide a high standard. This is the same with a photographer; if you don’t choose a quality photographer then you have wasted the investment because the photos will not reflect the quality of your hotel.
If you were going on holiday to Melbourne, for example, and you had never been there before, and had no prior knowledge of the city, how would you choose a hotel?
I would look online, ask for recommendations, and then look at the photos. I don’t read any text, I only look at the pictures. I’m against text, that’s why our brochure only has pictures. Text can be more easily manipulated and exaggerated. Nobody wants to read, they just want to look at a picture. Afterwards maybe I would look at reviews or recommendations, and ask a travel agent if I wasn’t convinced. Never the words – I don’t read until after I have made my decision. The first impression is the photography, for sure.
Rene certainly has his finger on the hotel photography pulse. With his monographic brochures and website featuring stunning visuals which capture the essence of Finca Cortesin – a picture speaks a thousand words -let´s hope more luxury hoteliers take a leaf out of his book.
Photography © Michelle Chaplow
For a full selection of images of Finca Cortesin shot by luxury hotel phtographer, Michelle Chaplow please click here