Virtual reality has been a part of science fiction for some time, offering a tantalizing view of what could be done with the right technology. Science has finally caught up with fiction, and Virtual Reality is now just plain old reality. Many industries are recognizing the potential of VR to revolutionize their business practice, and chief among these is the travel industry.
In this article let's talk virtual reality travel technology and what it means for business.
In 2020, experts project that VR could be making 30 billion dollars a year in revenue for companies willing to leverage the technology.
For travel business, the potential is largely in enticement. Although the ability to send people to other locations from the comfort of the couch may have its uses, knowledge and socialization are major motives when it comes to tourism, and it is a sad truth that you don’t meet many new people hanging out in your living room. So how does VR factor into the travel business?
VR as a technology can slide into the decision making process after the moment when someone has decided to take a trip. Travel businesses don’t have anything to fear from VR taking the place of taking a plane to an exotic local, and rather, the potential to use VR as a promotional or advertising tool for specific locations is (virtually) unlimited. With the ability to take someone to the location of their choice, showing them the best aspects of that experience, travel companies can promote what they’re really offering in a totally new and immersive way. A potential customer can be virtually walked through the whole check-in process, and end up on the balcony of their virtual room, taking in the actual view they would see if they were to take a trip to your hotel. This kind of first-person experience can be a powerful motivator in the decision making process.
What is Virtual Reality?
Before we get too carried away, it’s important to understand what exactly virtual reality is. In the movies, virtual reality is like being teleported to another place. Sights, sounds, and even smells (or touch) all feel exactly as real as... well, reality. Of course, we’re still far from the ability to replicate all 5 senses in the digital space, but what science has accomplished in terms of imagery and immersion is still impressive. The Oculus Rift, Google Glasses (though sadly defunct), and new offerings from technology giants Samsung and Sony all seek to take people to places they’ve never been, all without leaving the comfort of their own home.
There are two parts that make up any VR experience; the hardware, which the person wears, usually taking the form of a set of goggles or other headpiece, and the software, the video or interactive experience that the goggles project to the wearer. Though virtual reality technology has been in development for several years now, there are still only a handful of manufacturers producing VR goggles for commercial use.
Samsung and the Oculus Rift are at the top of the pile, with the former having the slight advantage of being able to work with a smartphone, becoming a more self-contained VR package. Oculus Rift has the advantage of a huge amount of processing power leading to a crisper, more believable VR experience, and is the option of choice for most travel companies looking to add VR to their entertainment or advertising models
VR vs. AR
In addition to virtual reality, you may have heard of augmented reality, and it can be easy to get the two technologies confused. Virtual reality (VR) is related to augmented reality (AR), in the sense that it creates experiences for the user that don’t exist in the physical world, but there’s an important distinction. While augmented reality overlays reality with additional information, building on reality to create new experiences, virtual reality completely replaces the physical sights and sounds of your surroundings with another experience that is, or at least attempts to be, equally as compelling and believable.
SEE ALSO: Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality
The VR/AR story is shaping up to be more about exploiting each technology to it's fullest potential, rather than deciding which is better. VR will never overtake AR in providing...
Virtual Reality Travel Apps and You!
This inherent draw of Virtual and Augmented reality technology, the ability to be somewhere else without having to put on pants, may seem to run counter to the entire spirit of travel. So what do AR and VR technologies have to do with the travel and tourism industry?
Travel companies and resort hotels alike make their money by enticing their customers with stunning vistas and depictions of colorful cultural experiences. It’s unsurprising then that the largest portion of the market for travel-related VR is devoted to creating 3D reproductions of actual locations that the VR user can then walk through in the virtual space, to get some idea of what these places might be link in real life.
Marriott’s “Travel Brilliantly” campaign
A number of businesses, including the hotel chain Marriott, have begun to pilot programs where they package VR hardware and offer these packages as an additional entertainment option to hotel guests. Marriott in particular has been leveraging VR in a targeted way with their Travel Brilliantly campaign. Their goal is to draw people to their hotels in major cities like London or LA, and then offer a virtual trip to much more exotic locations, with a much cheaper price tag.
Remember, though, that VR is a two-piece product. Like many pieces of consumer electronics these days, it is composed of a piece (or several connected pieces) of hardware and also the software that uses that hardware. Software, being relatively easy to produce and manage, is the focus for most travel companies looking to capitalize on this trend. Apps that provide VR experiences linked to a particular travel destination or hotel chain are giving consumers a new way to make good choices about where to spend their money.
The Wild Within by Destination BC
For example, in 2015, Destination BC, which works to increase tourism to British Columbia, Canada, created The Wild Within, a promotional campaign that included a series of 3D 360 immersive “experience” videos, that could be viewed on a computer or paired with a VR device like the Oculus Rift to create a completely realistic experience of being in the wilds of BC. The videos have since been crafted into an app that can be found either on the Google Play store or through the iTunes app store.
Another great VR travel app is Ascape, available on Android and iOS. This app functions much like YouTube for Internet videos by collecting all the VR visual experiences available into one searchable app, which you can then use to look up a particular experience on, say, Cuba, or Madagascar.
For business, this app has the same potential benefits as YouTube, providing a potentially huge audience for low cost, and providing a platform for advertising and promotional materials without needing to invest in a lot of extra infrastructure on the production end.
Apps like these show the true entertainment and advertising potential of travel VR. Although we haven’t gotten to the point where businesses can offer a travel experience as good as reality through virtual reality, companies can still use VR technology as a powerful tool to promote their locations, hotels, or resorts.
Is VR Killing The Tourist Industry?
With the idea of virtual reality travel drawing so much interest (and investor money), many question whether technology like the Oculus Rift might forever alter our relationship with travel. Perhaps for some people, a virtual simulation is enough of an experience, and there is a possibility that some more well known places may see a drop in tourism dollars as people find other ways to satisfy the urge to view famous landmarks, walk tours virtually, and experience new cultures remotely. Though there is an appeal to visiting a place virtually, without the inherent stresses of travel (no crying babies please!), walking through a virtual tour of the Taj Mahal, even if you can trick your eyes into thinking you’re actually there, doesn’t capture the full experience of actually standing in the Indian heat and feeling the cool weight of the stone around you.
For this reason, it seems unlikely that VR will replace physical travel any time soon. For one thing, VR technology manufacturers still hasn’t quite figured out a way to provide the same experience for more than one person at a time, and while some people may be perfectly happy to travel alone, for most, that’s a serious drawback of the tech. Still, though Virtual Reality has its drawbacks, the potential benefits for a business willing and able to leverage it to work for them are huge.
Getting Your Piece of the VR Pie
The possibilities of virtual reality mean that it’s not just tourism boards and major museums that could benefit from creating a VR experience for people to view remotely. Say you handcraft artisanal candies (or beer), or have a craft industry that produces beautiful textiles, or exquisite pottery. The ability to take individuals behind the scenes in places like these can increase interest in your product, and provide word of mouth interest in your business overall. If you run a tourism business, there is no better advertisement for your local or facility than virtual reality. Giving people a taste of the experience they would have if they traveled to your hotel or resort is a great way to help alleviate one of the biggest anxieties about travel, the possibility that it won’t be as amazing as the traveler is imagining. Virtual reality means that travelers no longer have to imagine, they can see for themselves, and be absolutely sure that what they’re getting is worth the cost.
Virtual reality can also be hugely beneficial when it comes to low-overhead advertising. Say you have a small but important attraction that you know people will want to see, but don’t have the money to produce a full ad campaign. With VR, your overhead on advertising is lower because it relies on the power of the experience, rather than market saturation, to draw people in.
How AppReal Can Help?
This is where companies like AppReal can really help you out. We have a team of experienced content creators that they can place at your beck and call, including graphic designers, engineers, writers and VR software developers.
Our professional content and app creators are able to work with you to identify the needs of your business, and create a VR app that integrates with your mission statement to produce measurable results. We understand the technology and have the programming know-how to create new applications to fully take advantage of it.
Whether you’re looking to integrate VR into an advertising campaign you already have in place, or wish to create a new concept for promoting your travel destination (or travel business), AppReal can give you a huge leg up in the virtual reality travel market. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at AppReal today, and let us help you utilize Virtual Reality apps to make your business a success.