VR extends its reach into the travel marketing mainstream

In the cult 1990s movie “Strange Days,” a virtual reality apparatus pulls images straight from a user’s cerebral cortex. Though solidly in the realm of science fiction, a similar kind of intense interactive experience is not far off in the real world.

NB: This is a viewpoint by Tony Tie, senior search marketer at Expedia Canada.

Mention virtual reality (VR) in casual conversation, and you’ll probably be greeted by looks of awe and slight fear. The current technology isn’t quite downloading gray matter yet, but the tech and the uses to which it is put are developing quickly.

Marketers are beginning to take advantage of VR and travel is one of the most exciting industry use cases. The technology’s immersive and interactive abilities are a perfect fit with the travel industry’s reliance on selling experiences through storytelling and visual narratives.

With VR, the opportunities are endless

The potential for VR technology to transform the travel space is massive. Imagine a travel vendor surrounding the prospective vacationer with different landscapes and adventures as they explore destinations before committing to airline tickets or hotel reservations.

With the addition of augmented reality comes the ability to control and curate those adventures in real time in a virtual, danger-free arena.

New marketing opportunities are springing up in every sector of travel, especially when it comes to content. From airports to conference centers and resorts to rental companies, VR can enable marketing teams to demonstrate services, show off new features, and reward customers with exciting experiences.

VR is already impacting travel brands

One of the major players capitalizing on the VR trend to tell its brand story is Marriott. Hotel guests in select major cities can be virtually transported to exotic locations such as Maui just by putting on a headset. The experience is fully immersive, complete with the salt smell of the ocean.

Aiding the hotel chain in this important new stage of its brand evolution is experiential marketing firm Relevent, headed by H. Tony Berger. He believes VR’s competitive advantage is wrapped up in the small sensory details.

VR is a huge opportunity for marketers because it’s so open to differentiation, and it’s scalable. For example, there are now reportedly more than 1 million Google Cardboard devices in circulation.

From 2015, when Marriott first tested its VRoom Service, in which guests could borrow a Samsung Gear headset and explore the world from their rooms, the prevalence of VR in tourism brands’ strategies has skyrocketed:

  • Best Western Hotels & Resorts recently teamed up with Google Street View to offer customized 360-degree stories to travelers.
  • Shangri-La Hotels has taken VR strategy beyond the consumer and is using headsets to sell to its wholesalers and associated travel agents.
  • Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group’s BluPrint app uses VR to help investors and developers understand the Radisson Blu Hotels design process.
  • Hilton and Holiday Inn Express and have both produced 360-degree ads; Vacasa has created 360-degree listings; and Airbnb has done likewise with a pilot of 360-degree video listings for hosts in Sonoma, California.

Before long, it will be commonplace for travel brands to use in-home VR brochures to help customers plan trips. Thomas Cook, for example, recently mailed out thousands of VR brochures along with Google Cardboard headsets. Canada’s Destination British Columbia and Qantas Airways also debuted promotional VR videos.

The Proof is in the ROI

The results from companies taking a gamble on VR prove the technology is far from a gimmick. After Thomas Cook placed Samsung Gear headsets in select British stores to help customers plan their trips by transporting them to popular destinations such as the Rockefeller Center, it saw a nearly 200 percent increase in revenue from packages to New York City.

In short, VR is offering marketers and travel brands the chance to connect with their audiences on more personal and intense levels, leading to increased loyalty, more meaningful customer relationships and conversions.

Immersive and sensory experiences are inherently more memorable; the human brain is drawn to this kind of information like a moth to a flame — precisely why VR promises to become the travel marketer’s best friend in the coming years.

Although VR has proven it can provide the sights, sounds, and smells of a destination, I don’t believe the technology will supplant humanity’s desire to experience new locales. At least not yet.

When Google Earth debuted, for instance, my dad would spend hours on the site. While it didn’t cure his wanderlust, it certainly gave him a novel experience. The same is true with VR and travel. For now, it offers a fun but limited experience but it is a valuable tool savvy travel brands would be wise to utilize.

But there’s no predicting what will happen as the technology advances. But you’ll want to buckle up. An exciting adventure awaits.

NB:This is a viewpoint by Tony Tie, senior search marketer at Expedia Canada.
NB2: Image by VectorFusionArt/BigStock

Related reading from Tnooz:
Virtual reality and travel – fully immersive, next-level developments (Jan17)
Sabre Labs peers into what’s next for the travel tech trade (Jan17)
Google brings tourist attraction to life with virtual reality dinosaurs (Oct16)

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are those of the author. and do not necessarily reflect those of the author's employer, or tnooz and its partners.



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