The Rise of Illustrations in Hospitality Marketing

Could illustrations give your hospitality marketing the lift it needs? We love the trend so we look at why and where it’s working, plus how to hire for it.

We get it. For hotels, DMOs, and wedding venues, the right photos often drive your marketing. It’s why we have a photo editor on staff, and why everything from the wedding event brochures to our destination blog websites like this one tend to be filled with big, wide space for those beautiful, color-drenched images that drive travelers to book their next vacation with you or brides to book their site visit tomorrow.

But that doesn’t mean we’re not fans of the rise of illustration in marketing materials of all kinds, both in print and digital marketing. When trying to explain the slow ascent of illustrations, one simple marketing principle goes a long way: when they zig, you zag. Simply put, illustrations are different. They can sometimes reveal more personality, creativity, and quirk than photos.

In hotel, destination, and hospitality marketing, there are many opportunities for illustration and iconography to slice through consumers’ haze and paint a new, fresh picture of your brand in guests’ and brides’ eyes. Here, we discuss what’s compelling about illustrations, who they work best for, a few examples to check out, and different avenues to hire an illustrator.

Why Illustrations Are Working

Illustrations give a brand a more control over their message and can provide a level of uniqueness that helps you stand out – Instagrammed much lately? While photos show a scene in clear detail (and there are certainly many places where that’s what’s needed – like when showing off the size of a resort’s pool to entice future guests to dive right in, for example), photos are constrained by what’s in any single frame. Illustrations, on the other hand, are only limited by the artist’s abilities, and can convey a brand image or ideas more effectively. When done really well, they can resonate long after a great photo has been absorbed.

That’s not to say that they’re the right choice for everyone, though…

When Illustrations Work Best

Illustration isn’t appropriate for every brand or marketing opportunity, and there are certainly examples the medium’s misuse. Bigstock Blog did a good job breaking down when you should steer towards photos, and when you should consider illustration:

Are you selling a specific product? Use a photo to display it clearly.

Are you selling something less tangible? Try an illustration to capture its theme.

What is the age range of your target audience? Younger people may be more receptive to the sly whimsy of a fun illustration, while older people may prefer the trustworthy vibe of a sensible photo.

Is your business an underdog, compared to the market leaders? Try an illustrated style to shake things up and set you apart.”

Examples of Illustrations in Hospitality Marketing

Hawthorn’s work on The Woodstock Inn & Resort’s magazine shows off mixed media, with illustration annotating a photograph. The end product is a graphic that gives readers the honesty of a photo with the light-heartedness of a sketch, something that fit perfectly for the story inside.

Flatbread, a small chain of pizzerias in New England, gives each restaurant an illustration unique to the town the shop is in for their websites. (This one here is a shout out to our home office digs: Portsmouth, New Hampshire.) This probably isn’t something that would be appropriate for a national brand like Domino’s, but for an artsy upstart – perhaps a boutique hotel, in the hospitality world? – it hits the mark perfectly.

It may seem counter-intuitive for a wedding photography business to lean on illustration for their logo, but it works quite nicely for Leaf & Land. Couples — with their eyes glazed over — look through countless photographers, trying to discern from a quick portfolio photo or two who would do the best job capturing their wedding. Leaf & Land’s aesthetic sensibilities immediately shine through and give you a sense of their artsiness and taste.

The Algonquin Hotel uses illustration to highlight the nearby Hippodrome Theater. A fixture on Sixth Avenue for more than a century, there are undoubtedly countless beautiful photos available – so why go with an illustrative depiction over a pictorial one? The Wes Anderson-like aesthetic gives the building a dignity befitting its iconic stature, showing that illustrations don’t have to be fun and whimsical to have an impact.

No, Citgo isn’t a hospitality brand, and in stark contrast to some of the small businesses mentioned here, it’s a multi-billion dollar brand. But we thought this was a great example of how the use of illustration can have the perfect effect by going against the grain, just like you might want to consider doing. This campaign of illustrations for their credit card may be surprising at first glance – but they make sense when you consider the circumstances. A go-to credit card is a personal thing; it’s with you every day, and ideally (at least for the company), it becomes an integral part of your life. So, considering the product that they’re marketing, it makes sense that they wanted a human touch in these graphics.

How to Hire an Illustrator

If you think that illustration work may be right for your hotel marketing but you’re not sure where to start, one place to turn is Upwork, home to many freelance artists based all over the world. The backgrounds, skill levels, and prices vary dramatically, so there should be options for budgets and needs of all kinds. If you’d prefer to look through portfolios first and then find the artist second, browse the designs at Dribbble for illustrations that stick out, and then contact that illustrator. If you’d rather not screen through dozens (or more) of options, though, you can hire a design-forward agency like us to take you through the creative process and produce exactly what you need.

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