Innovative ways travel brands are using virtual reality

Over the past couple of years, virtual reality has received a serious amount of hype in the travel sector. Yet initial early excitement has faded somewhat and there’s a sense that nobody is entirely sure whether VR really does have long-term staying power.

According to Skift, the technology itself is improving and the high costs associated with creating 360-degree content creation are coming down. Yet despite technological advancement and greater affordability, travel brands have been slow to invest. For many, there seems to be a general uncertainty about how VR can best be used, and whether the end benefits outweigh the costs.

However, by getting creative with production, harnessing the latest technology, and looking at exciting new applications, a number of hotels and travel brands are finding that VR can offer benefits unlike any other medium. In the following post, we’ll look at five different examples.

1. Enhanced guest experience

Using VR as a tool to entertain guests and enhance their overall experience remains relatively unexplored. Yet the applications of virtual reality in this area are almost limitless. A case in point is One Aldwych — a 5-star hotel in London. When guests order The Origin (a whisky-infused cocktail), they’re handed a virtual reality headset that reveals how and where their chosen tipple is made.

With the headset in place, guests take an immersive journey that includes visiting the distillery where the whisky is aged and soaring over the Scottish highlands, before arriving back in The Lobby Bar where the bartender serves their drink. This unique blend of storytelling and sensory experience has worked a treat. The bar sold 30 of the drinks on the menu’s first night.

It’s easy to imagine how VR could be similarly used to enhance all kinds of on-property experiences, from a meal at the hotel restaurant, to fitness classes to offering a multi-sensory spa treatment.

2. Virtual reality in social spaces

At the boutique Hotel Zetta in San Francisco, their lobby features a virtual reality installation created by San Francisco’s, Exit Reality. When guests slip on a VR headset, they’re whisked off to various virtual worlds, from outer space to a ghostly sunken shipwreck.

This clever use of VR not only entertains guests, its position in the lobby has created an eye-catching feature that’s earned the hotel plenty of extra attention. While walking along the street, pedestrians are able to glance inside and see guests interacting in the VR room. As a result, people have ended up walking into the lobby to ask about the cube.

While enhancing the guest experience, Hotel Zetta has realized how VR can be used to create a level of intrigue that stops people in their tracks and potentially leads to winning new customers.

3. Virtual hotel tours

Virtual tours using 360-degree technology are all the rage these days. By wearing a VR headset, travelers are able to explore a hotel and destination — giving them a unique chance to try before they buy.

Atlantis Dubai’s high-end virtual tour lets prospective guests explore its opulent rooms, luxury amenities and on-site experiences, from swimming with dolphins to tearing down a huge water slide at the hotel’s sprawling waterpark. While in Switzerland, Igloo-Village Zermatt brings to life its twinkling, sub-zero mountain village with a simple yet effective VR experience that shows off its cozy igloo accommodation and camp.

Taking a slightly different approach, hotel group Palladium uses VR as a selling tool aimed at travel agents. The chain’s own salespeople are given virtual reality headsets to present their properties to travel agents, enabling them to offer a virtual tour of the rooms, pools and restaurants at all of Palladium’s hotels.

Far from a gimmick, these kind of tours can generate significant levels of interest. In a comprehensive study of over 10,000 travelers, 31% of respondents said they would book a vacation in-store after experiencing a VR tour.

4. Destination marketing

Virtual reality destination marketing

Tourism boards are also realizing the huge pulling power of VR. Visit Mammoth in California recently shot a cutting-edge 360-degree/VR video to showcase the region’s stunning landscapes in a way that simply wouldn’t have been possible with images and traditional video.

Viewers are led through the destination by a group of adventurers as they spend a day skiing, mountain biking, paragliding, kayaking and horseback riding. Along with immersive point-of-view footage, a drone was used to capture the highest ever recorded images with a 360° camera.

The results are undeniably impressive and do a great day of placing the audience at the heart of the action. Take a look at this behind-the-scenes video to see how this vivid production was brought to life.

5. Meetings and events

Virtual reality has more recently been harnessed as a tool to sell meeting and events space. There’s a clear utility to using VR in this way — it gives events planners a much better impression of a space to gauge whether it’s the right size for their needs. Photos and descriptions alone don’t always offer the most accurate impression.

In 2017, Marriott launched its own VR tour to showcase how the hotel’s meeting rooms might be used for events. Clients could take a tour using VR headsets, such as Google Cardboard. Just recently, East Wintergarden (a venue in London’s Canary Wharf), unveiled their own 360-degree virtual tour to give organisers a better feel for the grandeur of their event space and diversity as a venue.

When events planners have the responsibility of booking a venue for major companies and clients, applying VR in this way can give them the confidence to book.

6. In-room entertainment

Hotel room virtual reality headset

As hotels roll out streaming services and on-demand content to attract guests, VR represents the next step to offer enhanced in-room entertainment. Virtual reality headsets are yet to prove a big hit with consumers. But given the likes of Facebook, Microsoft and Google are all continuing to invest in the technology, there’s reason to believe it has the potential to go mainstream.

Certain hotels have already been experimenting. Back in 2015, Marriott launched its “VRoom Service”. This first-of-its-kind experience enabled guests to order VR headsets to their hotel room. The headsets came preloaded with three “VR Postcards” — immersive 3D travel stories that followed real travelers on a journey to Chile, Rwanda and China. Far from a gimmick, 51% of new guests that used the postcards said they wanted to stay at Marriott hotels more often.

7. Hotel Design

Using VR as an interior design tool is a relatively untapped application that has the potential to go mainstream. Holiday Inn has being using VR to design new hotels, a process that has saved the business huge expense and time.  In one instance, the design team realized a chair for the built-in desks of a new room design didn’t fit after running the design through a new virtual mockup stage.

Independent design companies are also providing 3D experiences to allow hoteliers to visualize new design concepts. By using a smartphone or placing on a pair of goggles, hoteliers can decide whether to alter the carpets, upgrade the bathroom, or change the furnishings. In the near future, eye-tracking and sensors within the headsets will reveal how users feel about different design elements.

Arguably, hotels could use this kind of technology with guests to learn more about their preferences regarding decor and design. By visualizing things from a guests’ perspective, hotels could make important choices built around the likes and dislikes of their typical customer.

Innovations in virtual reality

While virtual reality still hasn’t been been embraced by many in the travel sector, its potential remains undoubted. Along with hotels and DMOs, major travel agents such as Thomas Cook are finding continued success with VR as a sales tool. Tech giants are also investing heavily to bring new headsets to the mass market, and the business applications continue to expand.

Beyond marketing and virtual tours, hotels and travel companies are now pushing the boundaries of VR in terms of creativity, technological ingenuity, and attracting niche audiences. So while the future remains unclear, the use of virtual reality in the travel industry still remains hugely promising.

Natasha Prats

Natasha Prats

Natasha Prats is a Product Manager at Travel Tripper, using her expertise in user experience to improve Travel Tripper's products. You can usually find her talking to customers, synthesizing feedback into new feature ideas, and working with engineering to deliver great products. Reach out to her at natasha@pegs.com.

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