Published: 15 September 2016
Virtual reality is probably the most revolutionary piece of technology to come into play since the iPhone. Don a headset and you are instantly transported to another world, be it within a game, exploring Google street view, viewing a potential rental property or simply catching up with friends 12,000 miles away. The applications are endless.
Some members of the travel industry were initially hesitant to welcome VR, with concerns that it might encourage the consumer to stay at home to experience a destination. It is true, there are certainly some of us who will go places with VR that we’ll never encounter in real life. However, in my mind there is no doubt that VR will bring power to travel brands rather than hinder them, and this can be done in two ways: inspiration and demonstration.
"Nothing can replace actually going to a destination, experiencing it yourself, and sharing your experiences with others," -- Michael Dail, vice president for marketing at Marriott Hotels.
Indeed, YouVisit found that more than 13% of people who take a VR tour of a destination are inspired enough take the next step in the process of planning an actual trip.
Below I have showcased seven travel organisations who are already successfully embracing VR.
1. Hamilton Island (Qantas Airways)
The Hamilton Island video was my very first experience of VR. Together with Samsung, Qantas was quick to adopt the technology to showcase one of Australia’s premier destinations, publishing this 360o video back in June 2015. It is one of a series of videos, also including Sydney Harbour.
The Youtube video is incredibly accessible - to view, grab a Google Cardboard (from £4 on Amazon) and pop your smart phone inside.
Qantas were also the first airline to trial VR as an entertainment service in first class lounges and cabins. Qantas’ digital advisor David Murray described the results as very positive: “42% of people who experienced VR in the first class lounges rated it nine and greater out of ten; 60% who experienced if in flight gave it an eight or higher out of ten.”
Earlier this year, the brand announced that they are investing further budget into virtual reality as a consumer channel.
2. Las Vegas
There have been several destination marketing organisations that have already proactively embraced virtual reality and are doing it well. In March 2016 Las Vegas launched a VR app to help travellers get inspired and plan their visit.
"Users are able to explore what Las Vegas has to offer in a virtual setting and gain the excitement needed to book their own Las Vegas adventure.” -- Cathy Tull, Senior Marketing VP for the LVCVA.
Download the app here: http://itb.vrtv.vegas
3. Thomas Cook
Thomas Cook have taken virtual reality a whole step further by using it as part of a campaign allowing consumers to win a £3,000 holiday to Los Angeles. Viewers have to experience three VR videos to find clues to three of the airline’s newest destinations. This is accompanied by a few familiar characters…
The travel firm were one of the first to take up VR. In 2014 they began trialling the technology within retail stores to allow customers the chance to experience destinations before booking their holiday.
“Our use of VR is set to further enhance the in-store shopping experience for Thomas Cook customers, allowing them to make informed decisions regarding their next holiday using innovative technology that effectively lets them try before they buy.” -- Marco Ryan, chief innovation officer at Thomas Cook.
As a result, revenue from their VR-promoted New York excursion increased by 190 percent – an impressive stat.
4. Marriott Hotel
The Marriott recognised the limits of virtual reality and set out to include additional sensory inputs for users via what they named their “Teleporter”. They then targeted newly married couples in New York and offered to transport them instantly to London or Maui for a VR honeymoon. The immersion included heat, wind, ground vibrations, sea spray and smell.
The Marriott also offers VR as a service, allowing guests to borrow headsets in selected hotels. This was part of a wider campaign to attract millennials to its hotels.
5. Tourism Australia
In January, Tourism Australia revealed the latest instalment of its Nothing Like Australia campaign, an immersive VR promotion to demonstrate “how it feels” to holiday there. CMO Lisa Ronson spoke about tourism agencies constantly striving to find a “competitive edge”.
To help promote the 17 newly created experiences and videos, Tourism Australia are said to be issuing travel agents with headsets. The large focus on coastal and aquatic experiences is to help the DMO compete with the likes of Hawaii and other Pacific destinations.
“Aquatic and coastal lends itself to that immersive type of campaign and with VR and 360 you get a better understanding of the experiences available. We believe it will increase the intention to visit that little bit more.” – Lisa Ronson, Tourism Australia CMO.
6. Alton Towers
I wanted to include Alton Towers as an example of a brand that was using virtual reality as an actual attraction rather than a marketing channel or customer service.
Galactica is a rollercoaster that requires guests to put on a custom-made head strap including a Sony VR headset and in-built audio. It reuses Alton Towers’ previous ride Air, now perfectly mapped and synced with a new world presented via virtual reality.
Ascape is a brand that was created purely for VR. Their app provides travel inspiration by setting the bar high for incredible visual content, including 360o videos and scenic tours. This content is sourced from multiple paid content producers who can submit their work via the website.
To get the app, visit http://ascape.com
The Future of VR and Travel Marketing
Despite the massive potentials of virtual reality, there has been a slow uptake of the technology from consumers. Personally I believe this is because it’s such a new concept, people are yet to understand its true benefits and what’s in it for them. It is also partly due to quality – as Qantas’ digital advisor David Murray remarks, “There’s a lot of crap out there – if you show someone a really bad VR video for the first time you’ve lost them.”
Nevertheless, it is only a matter of time. Both Facebook and YouTube are investing heavily which will help expose more of the public to the potential applications of VR and encourage user generated content. The online travel marketing landscape of 5 years’ time could look very different indeed.
Interested in VR? Read more from Kris in his blog about our jaunt to Google...