Real Talk About VR With the Society of American Travel Writers

 Joan Jetsetter experimenting with movement in VR at the Samsung Developer Conference in San Francisco, Calif. Image by  Wasim Muklashy . 

Joan Jetsetter experimenting with movement in VR at the Samsung Developer Conference in San Francisco, Calif. Image by Wasim Muklashy

 

What does VR mean for travel journalists? Find out in this SATW interview with Joan Jetsetter. 

Let's be honest—traditional travel journalists have struggled to stay on trend for nearly a decade. In the late 2000s, the Great Recession, combined with the rise of mobile media, meant that no publishing job was safe. Then travel bloggers and social media came along and turned the whole industry on its head.

Members of the Society of American Travel Writers (many of whom were previously employed by something called a "newspaper") have weathered the storm and done their best to stay on trend. That means they have continued to redefine what it means to be a travel journalist in the digital era—whether that's amassing huge followings on Instagram or editing travel videos to supplement their stories.

In a recent interview, I sat down with SATW to discuss the future of travel journalists and the rise of virtual reality in the industry. An excerpt is below. For the full story on SATW's website, click here

Can you talk about the importance of virtual reality as a new media platform?

 
 

Well, it’s not every day that a brand-new medium comes along—we live in a very exciting time. With mass adoption of VR, 360-degree video and augmented reality (AR) on the horizon, there’s never been a better time to experiment, see what works and what doesn’t.

So many huge media companies are already testing the waters. For example, CNN, VICE, USA Today, the Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Travel Channel and Discovery Channel are just a few brands who are serious about 360-degree content and learning what works best for their audiences.

What does the VR trend mean for content producers?

If you’re a content producer who is already making travel videos, flying drones and keeping up with the latest trends, then this is a massive opportunity for you to expand your knowledge and try a completely new way of filmmaking. If your business doesn’t intersect with video, it’s easy to look at this technology as “just another thing to learn.”

What does the rapid growth of VR mean specifically for travel writers?

The way I see it, VR is just another way to tell stories. There are definitely new challenges in mastering the medium from the perspective of a travel journalist or travel video producer. When you’re creating this type of content, it’s almost like you have to retrain your brain to think spherically instead of focusing on a flat composition. And you have to answer the question: Why am I filming this in 360? If you don’t have a good reason, then VR might not be the best approach for this specific project. But if you’re curious like I am, you’ll want to challenge yourself and apply your travel writing techniques and skills to a new platform.

Do you need special equipment to shoot for VR or to display it?

Yes. I’ve heard of people creating their own camera solutions by 3-D printing a GoPro rig and using their pre-existing GoPro cameras. But you don’t have to do that anymore. As of this fall, there are a ton of 360 cameras on the market, some of which even offer live streaming capabilities. Imagine what it will be like to see raw, unbiased and unedited news stories broadcast live from conflict zones, such as Syria, Nigeria, Sudan and Afghanistan? It’s probably the first time in our lifetimes when we’ll be able to get an authentic depiction of what is really happening in other parts of the world.

On my personal YouTube channel, you can get a behind-the-scenes look at the trials and tribulations of shooting on location with a super high-end 360 camera.

 
 

As for viewing 360 content, you can use something as cheap as a Google Cardboard ($15) or a Samsung Gear VR (I got mine for about $90 on Amazon) with your smartphone. There are higher-end solutions, such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and the recently released Sony PlayStation VR (PSVR). For a less-immersive experience, you can watch 360 videos on YouTube or Facebook via your computer or mobile device. Check out the superswell VR YouTube channel if you want to view some of my recent 360 videos with or without a Google Cardboard.

Why is VR so important to the travel industry?

Just as a travel brand with a professional-looking website and a strong social media presence is more likely to be trusted by consumers, the purchasing public favors companies who use 360-degree videos. Greenlight Insights, a market research company that specializes in VR and AR industries, found that consumers feel that VR makes brands appear "forward-thinking and modern.” In its consumer survey of 1,300 adults, a majority of respondents said they would be more inclined to purchase from a brand that uses VR than from one that doesn't. The survey also found that consumers are interested in many applications of VR and AR, with travel as the most popular surveyed category (74 percent).

We are just seeing more widespread use of VR...what will the use of this platform look like in the next year?

I think that the holidays are going to have a huge impact on what VR will look like next year, simply because people are going to give and recieve the hardware they have been hearing about, including PSVR and Google Daydream, a headset which retails for approximately $80. Google has already gotten us comfortable with 360 photography thanks to Google Street View, and Snapchat has been getting us used to AR, with its Selfie Lens, for the past year. I’m curious to see how Snapchat’s Spectacles ($130 sunglasses that can shoot first-person videos and upload them to Snapchat) will incorporate AR and VR in the coming year. Also of note, Apple’s new iPhone 7 Plus, with its dual camera, could be setting up consumers for 360 photography and video. You’ve probably already seen some of your friend’s 360 photos on Facebook or watched a 360 video on YouTube. The general public is definitely starting to get comfortable with these emerging technologies.

Mass adoption of AR / VR will likely happen within the next two years. I’ve already had some “Ready Player One” moments of my own, virtually hanging out around a campfire with others in AltspaceVR or attending a virtual “rave” with a live DJ in TheWaveVR. This is only the beginning.

Is VR something that all writers/photographers need to know and use, or will this remain a niche area of expertise?

For right now, VR is definitely a niche area of expertise. Just seven or so years ago, social media used to be very specific too. Nowadays careers, and companies for that matter, are built on the power of social media. Will VR have the same penetration as social media? As of right now, that’s anyone’s guess, although Mark Zuckerberg thinks VR is going to be “the most social platform” out there.

How has VR changed your professional course when it comes to creating content?

VR has changed a lot about how I create content and how I travel. I tend to pick places and situations that will read well in spherical form. I travel with very specific equipment, and I have to think about how to capture content in a completely different way, which comes with a whole host of challenges and opportunities.