Guest Post: How Virtual Reality is shaping the travel sector

Guest Post: How Virtual Reality is shaping the travel sector

Henry Stuart, co-founder and chief executive of Visualise

Imagine jumping into a yellow cab in Times Square then abseiling down Table Mountain in Cape Town before taking in The Pyramids in Egypt, without having to leave your home. With the growth of Virtual Reality (VR) technology, whistle stop tours of exciting destinations around the world are being made possible, bringing with them valuable benefits for those within the travel industry.

If done well, VR will enable the viewer to be completely immersed and lost in the experience they are taking in behind the headset. For the travel industry, this provides an exceptionally powerful tool to showcase anything from destinations and key attractions, to hotel rooms and the views from them to prospective customers.

Earlier this month, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts became the latest brand to incorporate VR into their marketing, enabling consumers to explore their portfolio of hotels around the world through 360 degree videos.

Today, holiday brochures and even websites can only do some much to engage a customer, so it’s important to find a way to differentiate and stand out in a busy market. Incorporating VR into the purchase process gives customers an exciting and very real view of a destination, triggering a larger emotional response.

Thomas Cook’s ‘Try Before you Fly’ campaign is one example of how VR has helped drive sales by enabling potential customers to preview a holiday before they book. Run in-store initially, the campaign, which has seen an increase in holiday bookings by 190% gives shoppers a sneak preview of the restaurants, local attractions and hotels at a range of destinations. This brings the in-store experience to life, engaging customers on a far deeper level and giving them an honest view of a destination.

But it’s not just tourist boards and travel agents that can benefit from the growth of VR technology. Qantas are already bringing VR content to passengers on board select flights, enabling users to explore the Great Barrier Reef and Hamilton Island through 360 degree videos in the air.

Not only does this enhance the customer’s in-flight experience, but it also allows the airline to promote one of the most popular and breath-taking attractions. Whilst this is only currently available on certain-flights, it is paving the way for a complete overhaul of in-flight entertainment in the future, providing another way for airline carriers to differentiate themselves.Implementing 4D elements into the VR experience is one way brands can immerse the customer further.

Whether it’s through seating them in a deckchair next to a sunlamp to enhance a VR experience of a South African beach or a using a wind machine to enrich a VR downhill ski experience, these additional elements will help the VR content stand-out and stimulate the viewer’s senses. Using binaural sound is another way to enhance this to make them feel even more ‘present in the scene’.

As the viewer moves their head to look around the scene, the sound changes dynamically, as do the visuals. For the travel industry, this is a powerful way to expose customers to new and interesting sounds that capture the destination or attraction – whether that’s an elephant sanctuary in Thailand or the Rio de Janeiro carnival.

The ability to tell a story, take people to previously unexplored locations and truly unveil the culture of a particular place through VR is being recognised, but there is more to come. As content becomes increasingly sophisticated and more headsets launch in 2016, the consumer market is set to take off.

The opportunities for brands to build deeper interactions with customers are set to grow, which will see the travel sector evolution continue, and poses the question, exactly how far will this go? Will it open up new and yet-to-be discovered destinations that have previously been off-limits due to conservation, accessibility or even safety considerations? We will watch with interest!

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