From hype to value: What VR can actually do for your travel business
Aktualisiert: 30. Juli 2019
Virtual Reality (VR) is one of those new media technologies that are expected to have great
impact on the tourism industry. Every year again. And again. And again!
VR and 360° - the ever hyped technology
I often smile when I read one of those headlines: „Virtual Reality ready to revolutionize the tourism industry“, „Will VR replace tourism and travel“? „VR about to transform travelling“. In scientific literature, the role of VR has already been anticipated already more than 20 years ago and redigested ever since. But still, we are awaiting further technical development (such as the release of really manageable head mounted VR Displays!) to leverage the potential of VR for mass consumption.
Let’s introduce some substance to that hype Why exactly are Virtual Reality tools considered the new black for travel marketing? What can it do for us? In a nutshell, the expected value is:
a marketing tool to inspire potential customers – alright, inspiration is great, we like people to travel more!
useful to support travel planning – make booking more „wow“, agreed!
and as an opportunity to advertise alongside VR content that is either directly or indirectly related to travel – check!
The most obvious benefits of VR is its ability to provide travellers with a “more direct experience (…) than just reading other tourists' narratives or watching videos and photos” (Additionally, VR is also seen to provide benefits for for travel entertainment, tourism-related training and education as well as cultural preservation – which is also interesting, but not our focus here).
VR as a „try before you buy“ experience
Holiday trips are different in some ways to most other products consumers buy. Booking holidays usually is a considerable personal financial investment. If we buy very expensive products, we usually test them thoroughly in advance, such as test-driving a car or trying on shoes. Additionally, holidays also are an emotional product – even if there is no economic, tangible “rate of return”, travellers have their very individual expectations. As we cannot test holidays in advance, most people collect a lot of information about a destination when planning a trip to support their booking decision. This is where virtual experiences come into play: 360° videos and VR tools can give you a glimpse of what it will be like to enjoy the view at that beach or to travel on that cruise ship. Tourism researcher Daniel Guttentag emphasizes the sense of sight is very important in tourism marketing, where a lot of experiences depend on visual stimulation. So simulations of the real world are particularly valuable for travel promotion. The ability of VR tools to provide a sense of what it is like to be in a place – as a “try before you buy” experience – can make VR a powerful tourism marketing tool. “It's an evolution of marketing platforms,” puts it Tony Corneto, user experience director of the travel agency network Virtuoso. “You started with books, and then you moved to photographs, and then you moved to video, and then you're now moving to VR.”
"I can see it!" The value of VR for travel marketing is in view.
How to use VR as a tourism marketing tool
By getting creative with the possibilities oft he new technology, a number of travel brands are finding that VR can offer benefits unlike any other medium. In the following, we will have a short look at five different examples how virtual tours are used for travel marketing.
Currently, most “virtual tours” used for travel marketing consist of 360°pictures or videos. They can be watched either on a desktop PC by moving around with the mouse, on your smartphose by moving around with the device or in VR mode with appropriate goggles.
For example, Igloo-Village Zermatt brings to life its icy mountain village with a simple, but effective VR experience that shows off its cozy igloo camp. Yet, this example shows a common challenge of 360° videos: as a user, it can be difficult to find out where the action is and not to miss anything while looking around. In the meantime, also devices with an only 180 degree field of view are used. This means less spinning around for users and reduced costs on the production front.
Club holiday operator Aldiana distinguished itself as a pioneer in Germany by offering virtual tours of its clubs since 2016. As Aldiana marketer Markus Wunderlich told me earlier this year, it is unfortunately not possible for Aldiana to track how website visitors use the tours and to retrace whether they actually book. That „attribution problem“ makes it justify investments in the new technology and respective content.
VR tools are also used in travel bureaus: Schmetterling International is Germany’s largest mid-sized, independent and owner-operated travel distribution company. It is specialized on technical solutions, purchasing and logistic services for travel agencies. Among these services, Schmetterling also provides a VR tool that is currently used by around 800 of their 4.000 network partners. Schmetterling has observed positive effects in terms of quicker booking decisions in travel bureaus that use the tool, especially in the field of cruise ship trips and in the high-price travel segment. Ömer Karaca, the technological department’s director, points out that it is necessary to gain practical experience on how to use the tool most effectively.
… and the bottom line? The travel industry still is in an experimental phase with simple forms of virtual applications, considering what it technologically possible. After a phase of a lot of enthusiasm, we are now a few years into the „virtual revolution“. Despite technological advancement and greater affordability, travel brands have been slow to invest. The main reasons are the still low market penetration of VR devices among consumers and the high production costs for more advanced VR content. Additionally, many travel companies are still unsure whether VR can actually cause a consumer to book (the mentioned „attribution problem“, which we have analyzed in our own study). For many, there seems to be a general uncertainty about how VR can be used best, and whether the benefits outweigh the costs. It will be the mission of this blog to collect reliable best practice and empiric evidence how virtual experiences can be used to effectively market travel products.
The big breakthrough is yet to come VR continues to evolve as a media format. Every medium has its special way to present information. To create really immersive virtual experiences, it is vital to edit the content in a way that makes use of the strengths and characteristics of VR, while considering how consumers use the technology. The key for making VR successful in the travel market will be useful applications, content and attractive business
models in order to fully exploit the technology’s potential. Most experts agree that VR technology and applications will go hand by hand and that hardware sales will ramp as soon as compelling content and use cases will become available.