Virtual reality and 360-degree video could revolutionise the travel industry, allowing customers to walk through a hotel room before they book, or explore a location’s sights and sounds in order to choose holiday destinations, or simply to virtually peruse places they might never go in reality – all from the comfort of an armchair, using their smartphones.
Pioneering brands in the travel industry are already exploring the potential of VR as an advertising tool to help their customers visualise resorts, destinations and hotels. While others remain more sceptical, brands such as BA, Qantas, Lufthansa, Expedia and Marriott are embracing the medium’s immersive power to tempt their customers – now easier than ever with sites such as YouTube and Facebook among the many that support 360-degree content.
British Airways teamed up with Avios to create a 360-degree video tour of Madrid that lets viewers explore locations in the city including the Temple of Debod, San Miguel Market and Retiro Park. As viewers peruse the locations, interesting local facts pop up, such as the location of Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world, or the different activities for visitors to do at the Park.
The campaign – with the strapline ‘You’ve experienced a virtual taste, now enjoy it for real’ – was the focus of an advert in The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, which drove people online to watch the video, even supplying Avios and BA branded Google Viewers in Tesco stores.
Going a step further in its embrace of VR, the Australian airline Qantas has brought out an entire VR app immersing viewers in the sights and sounds of their most spectacular destinations, including a virtual fly over of Uluru, a ‘taste of paradise’ on Hamilton Island – starting by landing a plane with a pilot’s eye view – and a tour of Sydney Harbour featuring its iconic bridge and opera house.
Available for iPhone, Android, Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive devices, the app can also be used on board their planes. “Our aim with the new virtual reality app is to connect with travellers by showcasing parts of Australia they may not be familiar with,” says Qantas Group Executive, Olivia Wirth. “Customers loved our trial of VR headsets last year, but we wanted to take it to another level and make it more accessible.”
For its YouTube page, German airliner Lufthansa created several 360-degree on-location videos in Beijing, Hong Kong, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Tokyo. Each 46-minute clip lets you pan around a notable area in each of those cities, such as Wan Chai Street Market in Hong Kong or Lombard Street in San Francisco. You don’t need a VR viewer, although it’s more immersive if you use the YouTube Android app with Google Cardboard viewer.
Expedia recently created a new virtual reality experience that transports viewers to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, showing them what it’s like to go to the Cenote pools, a series of dramatic underground cave pools that were sacred to Mayan culture.
This development of VR marketing comes from ExpediaLabs, which is the company’s testing ground for new technology. The cenote VR experience is available for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets.
VR is now enabling hotels to provide virtual tours, allowing potential customers to experience what the hotel looks and feels like before they even book, potentially offering more transparency than ever before. This 360 video from Atlantis Dubai, best viewed with VR glasses or Google Cardboard, is a great example of this.
Marriott is one of the major hotel chains that have so far adopted the VR trend to help the public visualise their far flung, exotic destinations. Hotel guests in select major cities can be virtually transported to places such as Maui in Hawaii by using a headset in their hotel room.
The adoption of VR as a marketing tool for the travel industry should not come as a great surprise, considering the extent to which customers already rely on digital media when planning their travel, but a few notable travel brands have forged ahead of others to embrace the technology.
While the need for accessories such as headsets and Google Cardboard still form a barrier to its uptake, once this is taken into account, VR provides an immersive experience that it perfectly suited to travel marketing, engaging the audience like no other medium, and providing perhaps the ultimate ‘try before you buy’ experience.