How “Wow” Graphics Can Help Create a “Wow” Hospitality Experience

2014 May Whitepaper

The lodging industry has changed dramatically over the past 15 years, due to the advent of price-competing websites like Priceline.com and instant consumer feedback supplied through sites like Yelp.com. In fact, with the millennial generation (people born between 1982-early 2000s) poised to become the core demographic of hospitality consumers in the next five to ten years, service-oriented businesses are rethinking how to meet the high expectations of this tech-savvy generation that is also known for its requirement of speedy and precise service.1

Moreover, millenials are more interconnected than any previous generation. Their coming-of-age paralleled the rise of social media. When captivated by “wow” service, their propensity to post, tweet and blog can be a boon to businesses. However, if their experience is not on par with their expectations, they are also not afraid to publish their disappointment to their networks, marring the reputation of the offending business with just one click.2

With stakes this high, hotels and the broader hospitality industry have a financial imperative to create a “wow” experience for all consumers, requiring a coordinated, multi-layered approach. One crucial element that sets the tone for a guest’s experience is dynamic, distinctive and engaging visual communications throughout the entire business. Onsite communications help a guest understand their surroundings and find their way, learn of promotions and amenities that will make their stay more pleasant and can build brand affinity by educating the guest about the hotel or other service-oriented business.

Tourism and hospitality graphics in action

Below are some examples of how hospitality industries are using visual communications to guide, inform and engage visitors and, ultimately, make a positive impression to guarantee their return.

  • As advertising: Easily updated signage, whether traditional or digital, allows businesses to push current promotions such as discounts at the hotel restaurant or special events at the resort, while targeting messaging to specific groups.
  • For revenue: In addition to advertising for the host location, a well-designed graphics system may include opportunities to sell space to other businesses, adding an important revenue stream.
  • To engage: The most dynamic visual communications should give the consumer the opportunity to be in control. For example, instead of waiting in line to check in at a hotel lobby desk, a guest can check himself in at a digital kiosk. Or, instead of finding a printed map, he or she can use a smartphone to scan a QR code that instantly pulls it up online.
  • To direct: Effective wayfinding signage throughout a hotel provides the visitor with exactly the information they want at exactly the appropriate time. In fact, making a site “legible” has been shown to improve tourists’ enjoyment and feeling of control and has been linked to increasing their likelihood to return by 30%.3

Holiday Inn: A Brief Case Study

Naturally, good visual communications are only the beginning of that aforementioned “wow” experience. The Holiday Inn—one of the largest hotel franchises in the world—has been working to improve patron experience since 2007, when they launched an overdue rebranding effort to refresh the brand while also hoping to appeal to that very discriminating millennial generation traveler. 

First, the iconic hotel franchise replaced its script-style lettering that served as a beacon for travelers since the mid-1960s with an updated “H” set against a simple green background, and the “Holiday Inn” text underneath. But updating the sign was merely the beginning of an overhaul that included extensive cosmetic updates and far-reaching company culture changes. And superior onsite visual communications underpinned these changes, making sure guests noticed the brand’s investment and re-launch. Below are a few ways that Holiday Inn’s onsite visual communications positively impacted their brand.4

Exterior Excellence

  • Signage: Exterior signage is the first handshake with guests. A hotel’s exterior sign standing tall near the freeway or mounted onto the building is usually the first thing guests see. As such, its design—color scheme, font choice, layout—needs to reflect the hotel’s brand identity. The simplicity of the new Holiday Inn sign resonated with the busy business clientele they hoped to attract.
  • Parking: Holiday Inn revamped its wayfinding signage to be more intuitive for guests. Clear wayfinding signs are essential for directing tired travelers to their parking spot. Again, it is all about setting the tone: when directional signage provides exactly the information a guest needs when he needs it, chances are he will not even notice it was good signage that guided him to that perfect parking spot. But if, in contrast, signs are confusing or misleading, the guest will begin his stay with a negative perception of the hotel. 

Inviting Interiors

  • Décor: Holiday Inn discovered that décor in muted tones that was free of clutter and projected a “coffee house” vibe worked for their clientele. For other types of hotels, the décor might boast plenty of unique, region-specific touches. For still others, sleek, modern leather furniture and buffed hard woods are the right fit. No matter the style of the décor, the important thing is to align décor with the hotel’s identity. Fortunately, a wide variety of material, textures and finishes are available today’s visual communications materials, allowing for a perfect custom solution for virtually every brand. Once the right fit is found, there exists an additional opportunity to soft-brand that décor for the hotel. For example, a photograph of a steamy, rich cup of coffee—with a subtle description that this cup of coffee is available at the hotel’s coffee window--could be used as art within the building. 
  • Communications. There is an old mantra about public speaking that goes, “Tell them what you are going to say, say it, then tell them what you have just said.” In the case of Holiday Inn, they promised consumers that service and quality had improved via their website and advertising campaign before guests even booked their room. Then, during the course of a guest’s stay, he or she got to experience the difference, punctuated by onsite communications on signs at the check-in desk and in the hallways, branded key card holders, and in-room publicity materials. Following their stay, Holiday Inn followed up with additional communications expanding upon their new philosophy. These points of contact reinforce to the consumer that the exceptional customer service they are receiving is characteristic of the entire franchise, causing guests to more readily book with any Holiday Inn in the future.

Communicate a Commitment to Service

The lodging industry is an incredibly competitive industry. Guests are expecting more amenities and a higher level of service than ever before, causing hotel’s expenses per guest to continue to climb. At the same time, price-competing websites are driving down what guests are willing to pay, squeezing revenues, and hotels are held to a higher standard than ever before thanks to the power of social media. Given this intense setting, a multi-layered approach to service, quality and consistency is essential. And pairing this approach with stunning visual communications that bring home a hotel’s point of differentiation maximizes the impact of this investment – delivering a “wow” experience designed to keep guests coming back.

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Read More


1. “10 Hospitality Trends in 2014.”


2. “Millennials: The New Face of Business Travel.”


3. “Wayfinding: The Value of Knowing How to Get There.”


4.“Holiday Inn unveils Relaunch.”


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