Travel technology giant Amadeus displayed a prototype of its VR booking system at Travel Technology Europe. Ben Ireland gave it a whirl.
Confession: I made a child cry.
Thankfully, that was in a virtual world. In that same virtual world, I was able to spin a model of the globe to choose my destination, look around the business section of an aircraft I was set to book flights with and literally grab my virtual child and plonk them in a seat of my choice.
It was only by my virtual reality novice’s poor execution that I made little Josephine burst into tears, by placing her in a seat away from the rest of the family. In truth, it’s a nice warning sign to ensure the person booking the flight is reserving seats together.
The overall experience was fun. I flung on my headset, grabbed my two handpieces (sort of like games console controllers, with a button for the index finger) and suddenly I’m transported to a transient place, a bit like that scene in one of the Matrix sequels where Neo is in the underground station with no exits. Except I had a giant globe with me, and two blue hands as if I was a doctor wearing protective gloves.
I reached out, unaware of who was walking past and how close I was to hitting them* and spun the globe. I couldn’t help but giggling at the strangeness of it as you can see it moving, and see your virtual hands moving it, but can’t feel any resilience. I imagined I was Tom Cruise in Minority Report, but on his lunch break booking a holiday.
Where to go? I literally span the globe randomly and as it came to a stop Salt Lake City was in front of me. Nice spot. I ‘tapped’ the spot on the map to mark the airport and suddenly all the routes on all the different airlines appeared in the form of green dotted lines heading in all sorts of directions. I followed this to London, venue of the convention, and chose that as my starting point. Once I’d ‘clicked’ on London, I was offered a number of different routes on different airlines. I chose the second cheapest, as I would on a wine list (people were watching). It went via Boston.
Next step was to choose my seat. I’d booked as a virtual family of four, and in front of me appeared a 3D model of the aircraft with the sections accessible by my ticket type highlighted clearly. It was a little finickity to drop us all on the same middle section – hence Josephine’s tears – but again made me giggle, like I did the first time I played on a Nintendo Wii.
Tears over, the family looked settled in their seats so I moved on to the next stage – car rental. The models on offer were displayed in front of me. Perhaps because this was a prototype, I was offered the choice of a Mercedes or Ferrari of which I chose the latter (in orange, naturally). You can open the door using your virtual hands and have a look around, but I did notice that the virtual steering wheel and gearstick didn’t move when I tried to tinker with them. It was also tough to avoid the temptation to ‘sit’ in the seat, which may have led to a Ronnie O’Sullivan-style VR fail. Luckily for me, my kind exhibitors from Amadeus advised against it.
Ferrari chosen, I looked left and a payment zone had appeared. I could pull a card, either Mastercard, Visa or Amex, from my ‘wallet’ and pop it in the circle to indicate that is my chosen payment method. Then the price came up – let’s just say I’m glad it was virtual money. I clicked confirm and my travel was booked.
It’s safe to say the experience was enjoyable. I had a big smile on my face and it was safe, especially so because one of the exhibitors never let go of the cable attached to the back of the headset I was wearing. It was for safety reasons, but I imagine I looked to passers-by like I was on a lead like a dog.
The platform is in its prototype form and will surely be fine tuned before it starts to appear in any travel agencies. Like a lot of technology in its early stages, it’s hard to imagine it adopted widely.
I can’t help but share the same opinion as I do of Pepper robots to be used at Barrhead Travel, or Tui’s facial recognition chair – that they are fun but currently aren’t developed enough to be an efficient booking tool. Maybe the novelty of the technology itself will help agencies get customers through the door and give them a talking point with customers who may then book the more conventional way?
It stood out among the stands at Travel Technology Europe though, and showed Amadeus is at the forefront of developing technology. While many sessions at the conference were themed around mobile and voice, Amadeus is stepping into the VR world with something more than an inspirational tool. It’s VR with a purpose, an end game – and it’s here today. And I’m sure Josephine will get over my error.
*no convention delegates were injured in the making of this article