Virtual reality has been a long-time coming, with early VR technologies being demonstrated back in the late 1960s. Now, with Facebook's billion-dollar purchase of Oculus Rift, the technology has reached the full-blown mainstream.
The technology continues to be used in travel applications to showcase hotels, event centers and destinations to potential customers on both the B2C and B2B side. Here's how the technology continues to impact the travel marketing side of the business.
Google Business View
Google has been pushing inside with its StreetView technology for several years now. The company has enlisted an army of local photographers to market themselves to local businesses, and then show up on location to photograph the inside layouts of the businesses. While this is not true virtual reality (i.e. 360 degree video capture), it offers similar appeal.
The cost of this service is passed on to business owners, who benefit from the consumer being able to view inside the business while selecting where to go.
For hospitality-driven businesses, this technology comforts the consumer as they can become more familiar with the space before arriving. It also offers a quick take on the atmosphere right in the search results. This placement in the right sidebar business listing means that these businesses are more competitive in the fight for consumer mindshare.
The service is also generally limited to smaller footprint businesses, although travel marketing startup TourDash recently deployed the technology within its own interface to capture the Royal Caribbean Quantum of the Seas. The technology from this startup also allows for items like menus and phone numbers to be embedded seamlessly in the interface, so consumers can click-to-call or peruse a menu right as they are at peak engagement with the business.
Other applications of Google StreetView technology in travel include this epic capture of all of Florida's 825 miles of beaches.
This company emerged to bridge the various types of content into one overarching virtual map. The technology has the normal facets of VR — namely the ability to explore a location — while also dropping different markers within the interface to deliver pop-out videos or other images that share more about what's being viewed.
This technology is especially interesting for meeting planners who are looking to narrow down a larger list of potential venues for a client. There's no longer the budget for excessive site visits, and Xplorit makes it easier for planners to wander a property and see how it might work for a specific event.
And rather than having the delay of movement that Google StreetView has as the camera is being repositioned, certain points of the location capture are done with video. This means that the user instantly feels what it would be like to walk down a path, providing a sense of place for meeting planners.
Another valuable feature for meeting planners is the way the company drops waypoints into the VR image. For example, when exploring the exterior around the Hilton Anaheim, there's an option to see how an event would look in the outdoor space. Click on the waypoint, and the full image transforms to a party scene — very helpful for busy meeting planners.
Another use case here is museums. The Kennedy Space Center has a really fun module that offers video support related to the Atlantis Space Shuttle. And right on the side is a red shopping cart that offers "Buy Daily Admissions," with a click-off to the Kennedy Space Center ticketing engine.
Trade shows would also benefit from this sort of exploration, offering exhibitors a video add-on that allows users at home to "walk" the trade show floor and watch paid content from exhibitors to see what they're all about.
Oculus Rift/Halo Lens
Oculus Rift was the first VR headset to truly capture the imagination of the mainstream — and travel marketers were not very far behind.
So far, the headset has been used mostly for buzzy marketing campaigns, such as in Qantas' premium cabin and Marriott's efforts to inspire newlyweds outside of New York's City Hall. This #GetTeleported campaign then went on the road to other cities to showcase both the trendy tech and the destinations where a Marriott can be found.
Another more immersive use of the technology comes from Destination British Columbia. The destination marketers invested heavily to fully capture the wilds of the BC area with a camera crew specifically geared towards virtual reality.
The content investment means that the brand can bring the video on tour, especially since most consumers don't yet own a headset of their own. These in-person events create additional marketing opportunities via memorable touchpoints while easily extending the ROI into a net positive over the long term.
Microsoft is also stepping up to the VR plate with a beast of a bat: HoloLens, which is an all-in-one unit that combines eyewear and computing.
The goggles haven't been released yet, so there's no clear angle into how it will interact with travel. However, the video and coverage show how a user might plan a trip by exploring destinations via flyovers of attractions, such as the Golden Gate Bridge.
The potential here to use 3D to manipulate flight pricing and purchase travel products has yet to fully be realized, so watch this space. Whoever figures out a fun, intuitive and straightforward way to book travel via VR will have quite the unique selling propisition.
Regardless of the brand, these VR goggles promise to completely transport the wearer into the destination. The jury will likely never come back with a verdict on whether this is ultimately good or bad for travel. One thing is for sure: those who need to truly experience a destination, from meeting planners to touch-and-feel consumers, will certainly benefit from trying it on virtually before dropping the cash on the real-world experience.