How Virtual Reality Is Changing the Travel Industry
VR isn’t the next big thing in travel. It’s already here.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has predicted that virtual reality (VR) will become the “most social platform” out there, but it sure didn’t look that way to customers of the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf where I met with the public relations manager for Contiki. With Samsung Gear VR headsets strapped to our faces, we sat across from each other but felt like we were worlds apart — one of us virtually experiencing cliff diving along Italy’s Amalfi Coast and the other touring an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora.
VR isn’t the next big thing in travel. It’s already here. And suppliers, travel agencies, sales teams and consortia are refocusing their 2016-2017 business plans in order to ride the wave. If you find them mad for doing so, run the numbers. Investment in VR and augmented reality (AR) reached $1.1 billion in the first two months of this year, while trusted brands such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Netflix, Samsung, YouTube and Facebook positioned themselves to bring VR to the masses. Looking ahead, Goldman Sachs Group expects the VR and AR markets to generate about $80 billion in revenue by 2020.
“The travel industry is all about finding the perfect destination or getaway, and VR allows you to explore multiple environments from the comfort of your own home or office,” said Tom Harding, director of VR and immersive products for Samsung Electronics America. “VR is incredibly powerful because it allows travel businesses to intimately showcase their expertise as curators of experience — be it destination options, restaurant suggestions or hidden gems that only the locals know.”
If you have gotten this far and you are still wondering what the heck VR, AR and 360-degree video are in the first place, you’re not alone. Most marketers don’t know, either.
Here’s a primer: VR, in its purest form, is an immersive multimedia or computer-simulated reality that allows the user to interact with (and often control) the experience. Users wear headsets and headphones that are tethered to a powerful PC that, along with controllers, tracks their exact location in space and allows them to explore the virtual world. AR, seen in applications such as Pokemon Go and Snapchat, happens when the real world is enhanced with elements such as computer-generated graphics, sound or GPS data. In other words, new information is added to the existing environment. And lastly, 360-degree video viewed in a headset is immersive content that wraps around the viewer. She can look up, down and all around her to get the sense that she is standing in the middle of the action, although unable to control the environment herself. Viewers without headsets can play around with less-immersive 360-degree videos on Facebook and YouTube via a mobile or desktop device.
While technically incorrect, “VR” has become the catch-all term for all spherical content viewed in a headset. Following in the footsteps of the media and the aforementioned brands at the forefront of the industry, I will use “VR” and “360-degree video” interchangeably in this article. You're welcome.
So, what do all of these developments mean for you and your business? The short answer: many things. Much like a consistent social media presence and a professional-looking website, VR can lend credibility to your company and help drive sales.
Go here to read the full cover story I wrote about the intersection of travel and virtual reality.