By Anthony Rawlins, managing director of Digital Visitor
Virtual Reality (VR) has been coming for a while. And while we don’t want to be premature, it’s safe to say that 2016 will be the year that VR emerges from the shadows, opening itself up to mass marketing and mass uptake.
Forecast to generate $6.7bn in 2016 and as much as $70bn by 2020, now is arguably the time to get on board with VR and, by extension, 360-degree video technology. Naturally, the Oculus Rift owning Facebook has been quick on the uptake, announcing direct support for 360-degree video. And this is indicative of a trend that is set to continue into 2020 and beyond.
A number of industries are already exploring the marketing potential of VR platforms. Lexus, for instance, is offering prospective customers the chance to test drive the Lexus NX via Oculus Rift. Red Bull is using the technology at air shows to give fans the chance to experience what it’s actually like to sit in the cockpit.
But what about the travel and tourism industry? Well, uptake of VR in this field has been relatively slow, which highlights a tangible opportunity for travel and tourism marketers everywhere.
Why virtual reality is the most exciting innovation in tourism marketing
Marketing in the travel and tourism industry is all about selling an experience; a feeling, a landscape, the history of a particular destination. Traditionally, this has been accomplished through compelling imagery, storytelling and user accounts, among other approaches.
But there’s a problem here. While those mediums can and have been effective, they don’t literally give prospective holidaymakers those experiences; what it means to actually be in a location remains in the imagination.
That’s why VR is definitively the most exciting innovation in travel and tourism marketing today. It enables people to live and experience, albeit for a short time, directly from their living rooms or your experiential hub. And boy is it exciting.
The potential of VR in travel and tourism marketing
From our perspective, the potential of VR in travel and tourism marketing is vast. Just think, with VR you can take anyone on a guided tour of your city, island or country from anywhere in the world.To get a better idea of what we’re talking about take a look at this website, dedicated to 360-degree video and photography…
And that’s just the beginning, by including augmented reality (AR) features holidaymakers absorbed in your virtual guide can control their experience, diving down for a closer look at specific activities they could indulge in while visiting your destination.
Is it expensive?
Not as expensive as you might think. The cost of units capable of filming 360-degree footage is falling quickly (we have one in-office that was only around £500). Drones, another vital component of VR marketing, have already hit the big time with professional-level models currently available for around the £1000 mark.
Of course, if you’re shooting footage for a marketing campaign you’ll want to work with the best technology available, but this does serve to dismantle the myth of VR and 360-degree footage being expensive.
Mass market marketing
The key point to remember here is that even without VR, 360-degree footage offers a compelling view of any destination (if professionally shot, of course). And while VR capabilities in the domestic environment remain niche, its popularity is certain to take off over the next year and beyond.
Of course, you still have the pioneers (Oculus) and high quality experiences (HTC) on offer at prices only mouth-watering for those really interested in tech. But there’s also the entry level Google Cardboard starting around $20, which even 6 months ago had passed the 1 million mark, and everything else in between.
VR is, right now, achievable and inexpensive for anyone with a smartphone. If you can find someone without a smartphone I’ll be deeply impressed.
It is this flexibility that agencies like ours will be looking to take advantage of over the next 12 months and beyond, as we attempt to grasp this opportunity to engage our audiences more closely than ever before (without them actually being there, of course). It is these tangible experiences, whether fully immersed in VR or scaled back to simple 360-degree video which will lead the way.