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Click a pic, book a room via Oyster Shots

Oyster.com

On Oyster Shots, Internet users can look at hotel photos produced by staff reviewers who stay at each hotel anonymously. Travelers can also book a stay directly from the photo.

A picture may be worth a thousand words but, according to the hotel-review website Oyster.com, that only hints at its potential value.

The site recently unveiled Oyster Shots, an image-powered search feature that lets users explore — and book — hotel rooms via photographs.

"We’ve always been really into photography as a way to transport yourself [to a place] before you get there," said Ariel Charytan, co-founder and chief creative officer. "The frustration was that our photographs were buried within our editorial."

To resolve the problem, the company spent the last 18 months tagging its 500,000-image photo database with editorial content and what Charytan calls "structured data," such as pricing and booking information.

The result is a multi-parameter database in which users can input their own search terms (for example, New York + lobby bar) or click on any of a dozen trending topics, such as best pools, Las Vegas party hotels or luxury hotel bathrooms.

Click on the beaches tab, for example, and the site will return 7,425 images shot at 293 hotels and resorts, along with average nightly rates and links for more information on the property. The results can be further filtered by destination, travel dates and the site’s 1–5 rating system.

Such searches can be hard to resist when the images include, say, a shot of a long sandy beach and the verdant mountains on Kauai’s East Shore as seen from the Kauai Beach Resort. Adjacent information notes that average room nights are $147 (although a room with that enticing ocean view will likely cost you more).

As with the rest of Oyster’s content, the photos are produced by staff reviewers who book and stay at each hotel anonymously. And, says Charytan, the images are already showing results: "Now that we’ve released Oyster Shots, people are spending twice as much time on the site."

Which, when you think about it, could be a big problem, especially for those of us who find ourselves daydreaming about travel when we’re supposedly busy at work writing reports and poring over spreadsheets. Oyster Shots is the digital, searchable equivalent of those postcards we pin to our cubicle walls and gaze at so longingly as the work week drags on.

Of course, ogling Hawaiian beaches at work is one thing; being able to book a room at a nearby resort or hotel at the same time could be very dangerous, indeed.

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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.