Once regarded with skepticism, virtual reality is quickly showing promise as a hugely powerful marketing tool in travel. As the technology improves and production costs come down, a number of hotels, airlines and tourism companies are now investing in VR marketing, and many are seeing impressive results.
To dive deeper into this exciting travel trend, we interviewed Sean Scanlin of EyeFull Media, a video production company that also specializes in virtual reality content for the hospitality industry. The following post includes Scanlin’s personal insights into the benefits of VR, industry success stories, and the ways in which hotels can produce their own VR content.
A definition of VR video
Virtual reality video is also commonly referred to as 360-degree video (or simply 360 video), which comes in two different formats: 2D and 3D. The 3D format is much more impressive as it adds a stronger sense of depth, giving viewers the feeling of being physically present in the environment.
While impressive on desktop, tablet and mobile, the full effect is best realized with a VR headset. When seen in this way, 360 video can deliver the kind of immersive experience that has been promised by decades of hype.
Key strengths of VR marketing
Typically, VR is best suited to high-end luxury brands. One of the main reasons is that the technology is able to truly showcase a product or experience in all its glory— heightening the sense of exclusivity.
Applied to the travel industry, Scanlin has found that VR is especially good at showcasing multiple properties or large hotels with extensive grounds and internal spaces.
When working with Vidanta (a series of resorts and time shares in Mexico), he used VR to promote their sprawling range of properties. Previously, Vidanta had often used in-person walking tours and video content, but these methods fell short of properly showcasing their many pristine locations. VR gave them the ability to pitch multiple locations in one short time frame.
For brands such as Vidanta, VR can promote extra special destinations in a way that photos or traditional video fall short. And along with attracting guests, this content can also be used to pitch future developments and secure funding, by combining 360 video shots with virtual renderings of properties.
But beyond benefits for larger and luxurious properties, the technology has some other big benefits for all hotels.
Stronger emotional connections
Just like a good book, VR has the power to transport people to another place and time, whisking them off to somewhere far away and exotic. According to Scanlin, “What VR does better than any other media or content tool is that it allows a potential guest to experience a hotel—not just see it, but experience it.”
While photography and regular video keeps the viewer at a certain distance, 360 video invites them into a scene. It’s this palpable sense of “being there” that can lead to a deeper connection with the experiences a hotel is promoting.
Boost consumer confidence
With traditional video, a hotel can easily create a false impression of a room by adjusting the camera angle, or not shooting certain spots. In contrast, VR shows every single angle of a room. As Scanlin says, “A VR camera can’t lie.”
If a person feels better informed about a hotel, chances are they will book with greater confidence. As the technology becomes used more widely, guests may come to place greater trust in hotels that can offer them a truly accurate representation of where they’ll be staying.
Unique selling points
On a broader level, VR also helps to showcase unique selling points. For Scanlin, this is a big bonus in the fiercely competitive hotel industry.
“Every hotel faces the same dilemma: what makes them different from countless other hotels?,” explains Scanlin. “They try to differentiate through photos, branding or service, but at the end of the day, the experience (or perceived experience) is what gets people to book.”
If a hotel can more effectively promote their best assets, they tip the balance in their favor. By offering the opportunity to wander around the lobby, sit beside the pool, or stroll along the beachfront, a potential guest can more easily understand the vibe of a hotel and destination and buy into the experience being sold.
How hotels are using VR
While it’s still early days, a select group of hotels have started using 360 VR films alongside traditional marketing.
In addition to property videos, Scanlin’s company Eyefull Media worked with Vidanta to showcase their partnership with Cirque de Soleil. The resulting video was a mesmerizing 360 view of the show Joya.
At Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, their website has a series of 360-degree videos that transport viewers to places such as the rooftop of Jokhang Temple in Lhasa and the interior spaces of their properties across Asia.
Along with watching in the standard 360-degree format, viewers can also watch content with any VR headset, such as Oculus Rift or makeshift paper sets like Google Cardboard.
Not to be outdone, Hilton has created their own 360-degree mobile film to let potential guests take a virtual tour of their Hilton Barbados Resort. Users can rotate their smartphones to explore the environment and a “Book Now” button appears at the end of the video.
Engaging sequences include soaring over the ocean, scuba diving around a shipwreck and sitting poolside at the property. In one sequence, the viewer is placed with a group of friends sharing drinks on a private patio at the hotel. It’s a clever scene that genuinely makes you feel part of the moment, helping you to better imagine being there for real.
Tips for hotels wanting to do VR
If your hotel is considering creating VR content, the following tips will give you an idea of what to consider and how to show off your property in the best possible light.
Focus on your hotel’s best features
Just like photos and traditional video, VR should showcase the standout features that guests most want to see. Know what makes your hotel special and be open to why guests feel it’s special. Guest surveys and comments on TripAdvisor and social media can help gain invaluable insights.
Also, think beyond the physical building. If your hotel’s surrounding area is a selling point in its own right, make sure it features in the video. By capturing the compelling sights, unique attractions or natural beauty of your destination, you’ll be giving guests one more reason to book.
The time of day you shoot can also set a distinct tone. In particular, the golden light at sunset can create a soft and dreamy quality that will make your hotel pool look extra inviting. These are the moments that VR can really enhance.
Once you’ve chosen which areas to focus on, you can then start working with your production team to devise a creative treatment.
Video production costs
Cost is naturally a big consideration with VR, and investment options vary considerably. Typically, a “low-end” 360 video will start from $20,000, while a “high-end” production could run $120,000 or more. Expect to pay about $50-60k for a mid-range 360 VR video.
Despite the big investment, keep in mind that normal commercial videography can hit similar costs. Also, when you shoot 360 VR, you can use video stills to create 360 photos and get multiple uses from the same footage.
If you plan to show off your VR video at your hotel or property, you’ll need to invest in headsets. There are plenty of affordable headsets available including Google Cardboard, a basic but inexpensive option at $15 a headset.
Move into mid-range territory and headsets work out around $75 to $125 each. At this price, you’ll get a more robust mobile headset with a strap and extra features such as tracking sensors and focus wheels. Samsung’s Gear VR starts at $99 and represents the most advanced option in this price range.
App platforms built specifically for mobile VR offer yet another alternative. For example, Google’s Daydream VR platform can be used to create high quality mobile VR content, which can then be viewed on Daydream-ready mobile devices.
VR is going social
Social platforms including YouTube and Facebook are also enabling brands to publish 360 video. In 2015, Lufthansa was one of the first travel brands to post a 360 video on Facebook, giving viewers a digital tour of Lufthansa Business Class.
Tourism Australia has also launched a series of 360-degree videos on their Facebook Page, ranging from swimming with whale sharks to flying over the 12 Apostles and Great Ocean Road. The campaign has proven a huge success, with each video gaining over three million views with Tourism Australia.
With the ability to post 360 video on social media, travel brands are now able to reach millions much earlier in the research phase, influencing decision-making in the most engaging way possible.
VR looks set to stay
As production costs come down and the number of platforms to showcase content go up, VR is being seen as a marketing tool with huge potential.
The key to making it work involves understanding its unique strengths, thinking creatively, but also remembering that the underlying principles of marketing (that apply to all platforms) still apply.
Used in the right way, VR can truly enhance your hotel in the eyes of customers, creating a more engaging and emotional connection that makes them feel one step closer to being with you.
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