As PRs we watched with interest as Virtual Reality technology changed the way brands approached marketing. Virtual reality – or ‘near-reality’ as it’s perhaps more helpfully defined – helps bring experiences to life through immersive, and sometimes interactive, 360-degree video, viewed through headsets. In light of its transportive potential, the development of VR technology appears to be a great opportunity for travel brands and destinations.
Beyond gaming, brands across all fields have turned to VR to connect with consumers: you can go mountain climbing with outdoor clothing brand NorthFace; choose your patio furniture with Wayfair and even go nose-to-nose with a polar bear with Greenpeace, which in VR pioneer, Director Chris Milk’s words enables us to “connect on a real human level, regardless of where you are in the world”.
So VR is great for brand immersion, developing deep emotional connections with consumers and even bringing a showroom to your home but does it work in travel?
Hotels and venues have long embraced and benefited from 360-degree ‘virtual tour’ technology online, but immersive VR videos (with headsets) are now increasingly used to ‘transport’ customers to a place. The Telegraph reported that high street travel agents are surviving by “looking to marry up the online and in-store world for its customers” with agents such as Thomas Cook opening ‘Discovery’ stores incorporating VR experiences.
Simulated environments which you otherwise couldn’t or are unlikely to experience, such as the alternative realities of gaming, walking on Mars or even joining Greenpeace in the arctic, are perfect for VR… but you can travel.
Surfing, swimming with seals and exploring the coast would all make for fantastic VR experiences, but they are only snippets of what can be discovered. In famous philosopher Martin Buber’s words ‘All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware’, and while VR technology could aptly bring to life the attributes of travel destinations, there’s little room for individual discovery or a tailored experience unique to the traveller and their personal tastes.
Putting on a headset cannot truly transport you – after all you can’t (yet) taste, smell or physically feel the environment you’re viewing – the technology is limited to giving travellers an insight into what there is to discover. The Marriott Hotels’ VRPostcards for example merged “storytelling with technology” which it states are “two things that are important to next generation travellers”. The VRPostcards service was designed to create and share intimate and immersive travel stories with guests, adding to the experience of their stay.
Although truly immersive VR experiences may be beyond the budgets of many travel brands, with the plethora of affordable DIY cameras it’s a great opportunity for taking user-generated and influencer content to the next level!
As travel PR specialists, we relish the opportunity of bringing a destination to life. While VR holds great potential,its strength lies in giving you just enough ‘reality’ to leave you wanting the real thing.
Words: Philippa Snell