Effects of Professional versus Amateur Photos on Travel Review Site Users’ Decision Making

Swimmers in a pool with cityscap in background; woman taking photo of buildings using mobile device
Original image - Darren Miller; Priscilla Du Preez; graphic mashup created using Canva
Unsplash.com / Priscilla Du Preez

Prospective tourists searching for information about travel destinations on review websites are often exposed to two distinctly different photograph aesthetics, professional (produced by destination managers) and amateur (generated by travellers and shared online). Aesthetics are important factors in tourist decision making; professional photos tend to be glossy and sharp, while amateur photos are often grainy and overexposed. What are the effects of exposure to both types of photograph aesthetics? 

Ben Marder, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Edinburgh Business School, sought to investigate how photo aesthetics affect a destination’s visual appeal and tourists’ booking intentions, along with co-authors Antonia Erz, Rob Angell, and Kirk Plangger. 

The authors carried out four controlled experiments with participants recruited through ‘Turk Prime’, an online research panel service that pools participants from Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) and other crowdsourcing marketplaces. Data collection through MTurk has been used widely within tourism research, and studies have supported the validity of MTurk data within quantitative research. 

Results of the study show that despite the “messy beauty” in amateur aesthetics, photos with professional aesthetics make a depicted destination appear more visually appealing to prospective visitors, ultimately driving booking intentions. However, the authors also note that the negative effects of amateur aesthetics are mitigated when viewed by tourists who are particularly risk-averse, presented alongside positive reviews, and accompanied by a greater number of professional photos.  

The study’s findings also provide insights into order and quantity effects when photography with amateur and professional aesthetics are presented together in search results, highlighting actionable implications for tourism managers.