By Vasily Malinov Vice President, Travel, Transportation & Hospitality
Virtual Reality (VR) is currently experiencing a rapid ascent in the consumer imagination. After spending the 90's and the first decade of the 2000's in the realm of academia and technological experimentation, recent years have seen several tiers of VR technology become available to the general public.
These initial home headset offerings were mostly geared towards video game applications. The strides made to serve that community, however, have opened up many new possibilities for commercial applications.
To the surprise of game developers, many of the most popular VR apps have been socially-inclined, rather than traditional video games. This revelation has led to a strain of VR development that quickly proved to be a major boon for the travel industry.
How VR is Revolutionising Travel For Consumers
There are several forms of consumer-level VR:
Mobile VR, low-cost headsets that the user physically inserts their phone into. The phone presents two images, so that the result as seen through the headset gives a 3D effect. It uses the internal hardware of the phone itself to track movement.
Standalone VR, headsets that have their own internal hardware and require no external tracking hardware.
PC VR, which requires a high-end PC to do the heavy lifting. These work in concert with room-wide tracking hardware and handheld motion controllers. While intended primarily for gaming, the extra layer of interactivity has proven useful for many enterprise applications.
Travel applications can leverage all of these types of VR. Many of the most popular applications target the more accessible forms, such as mobile VR goggles.
Virtual Tours Make Choosing Destinations Easier
VR is a great opportunity to get a better "feel" for a destination than simply looking at static pictures could.
There are existing VR tours for tourist hot spots such as:
Mount Everest, which drives home the point that the look down from the summit really is something that has to be experienced personally.
The Grand Canyon, which helps travellers decide on a good season to visit the region due to vastly different ecological environments depending on the time of their visit.
Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong, a breathtaking collision of natural beauty and modern architecture that looms much larger when seen in immersive VR.
VR experiences provide a new dimension -- literally -- for travellers to experience well before they decide on their final destination.
Destination Information Available From a Distance
When VR is used alongside heads-up display (HUD) graphic design, travellers can get crucial information at a glance before they finish forming the question in their minds.
How long does it take to climb Mount Everest? The information is already on the screen. Where are the top hotels in the area? A custom VR travel app could display that prominently in the context of the tour.
Navigational Planning Before Arrival
A VR tour of a city can provide information on where interesting destinations are located, which restaurants are in the area, and more, all at a glance.
Hands-on VR tours give travellers a better idea of what they want to see beforehand. Then, leveraging software like Google Earth VR, one can search for other points of interest and pin them in order to create a singular travel plan -- all without leaving the app.
Scoping Out VR Museums Before Visiting
Many prominent museums already offer VR experiences that remote travellers can use to get a better idea of the sights to see within:
Hintze Hall, in London, provides a 360 scan of several of its most famous exhibits. This allows the breathtaking architecture of the museum to shine in ways 2D pictures do not.
National Museum of Iraq provides a full 3D tour, which is especially important for this particular museum for two reasons: it is host to some of the oldest human artifacts known, and it is in a location that many are hesitant to visit. While this is an extreme example, it is a crucial way of showing what an important document VR is as a medium for navigable spaces.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City, provides a full VR experience that serves as a great way to encourage travellers to visit the city. It allows the user to navigate the museum from angles impossible in the space itself.
How the Travel Industry Benefits From VR
The consumer-facing applications above are great for travellers looking for new ways to decide on places to visit, which is already helpful for the travel industry.
There are uses for VR specific to the travel industry that can help behind the scenes, as well.
Visual Information Creates Leads
The examples above were from a consumer's perspective. For the travel industry, contextual pop-ups and other information presented in VR can be used to encourage the user to pay attention to partnered destinations, hotels, restaurants, and more.
For example, a VR tour of a destination neighbourhood could use informational pop-ups to highlight services and tourist spots related to a full travel package.
VR Training Applications
A major, time-consuming expense for the travel industry has always been education for travel agents and other employees who work directly with customers.
Travellers expect professionals in the field to have first-hand knowledge of each destination beyond a simple list of bullet points. VR tours are the perfect immersive training tool to take on this problem without overspending.
Leveraging VR For Sales Promotions
At some point in the future VR experiences will be normalized in much the same way motion pictures are today. But we're far away from that time! Offering VR tours during promotions as a way to encourage foot traffic is an effective way to draw in new customers.
This creates unique opportunities between travel agencies and businesses at the destination. When a restaurant or hotel knows you're capable of highlighting their services for your customers, often they are open to providing special deals to help with your promotion.
Offering Customers a Look at Their Hotel
Major hotels around the world already provide extensive, immersive VR tours of their hotels:
The Palm in Dubai offers VR tours of their luxury hotel as well as the scuba diving experience surrounding it, leaving little to the imagination for travellers deciding where to stay.
The Grand Oasis Hotel in Cancun provides a VR tour with a visible guide explaining the architecture, amenities and more as the user goes along.
Holiday Inn Express Adelaide proves that the very top end of luxury hotels aren't the only places that benefit from implementing a VR tour. This is a look at the future: potential visitors may soon expect every hotel provides some kind of interactive VR tour experience before deciding on where to stay.