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Understand where VR can be applied within the tourism industry.

 

It's easy to think that VR or 360 video may have one application and not fit your current business model. However, the way to look at VR is as a tool, something you can add to your armory that can apply to many verticals within your business and across the industry. While like any new technology it has its limitations and threats, its positives and diverse applications present a great opportunity for many operators. 

 

the ultimate empathy machine

VR has been described as an empathy machine, it has the ability to leave a lasting emotional impact on its participants. Associate Professor Brent Moyle from the University of the Sunshine Coast explains "Certainly in the study that we did with the Heart Foundation Research Centre, we found that Virtual Reality, certainly during the experience had a variety of effects on the autonomic nervous system. So your autonomic theory is,  you walk in, you buy a house because you just love it, it’s got that ‘wow factor,’. It might be the factor that gets people to choose one destination over another, one hotel over another, for example." Having that level of impact is one of the many reasons that VR will have a role in destination marketing and greatly affect the buying process for customers. 

 

Best describing a tourism product can often be a challenging task and more often than not imagery and more recently video often does the best job in selling a product or service. "So if a picture’s worth a thousand words, and a movie’s worth a thousand pictures then maybe VR’s worth a thousand movies." an interesting concept as described by Michael Mortimer. A concept that would sit VR in the Dream stage of the purchasing cycle, the ultimate teaser or trailer. Dan Wyatt from Rapid VR had an interesting insight into why VR presents an opportunity to be an incredibly powerful teaser "So when we experience something in Virtual Reality, and in a head-mounted display where we’re actually using our body to interact and look around the world, it gives us a visceral physical experience, which allows us – well, it kind of tricks the brain into thinking that it’s an experience that you’ve actually lived and had yourself. So already it just forges so much, it forges a much more powerful emotional connection because it almost becomes an experience that’s personal, that you feel like you’ve lived, because it’s a personal memory."  

 

This presents a powerful opportunity to heavily influence and inspire consumers at a very important stage. The intimacy of VR also helps the empathic response to an experience. Its the user and the experience, void of all distraction unlike many other forms of marketing where the moment you engage with one piece of material there is 10 more in your peripheral.  The "zero distraction" is an interesting concept and in the age of never-ending content, VR  provides a meditative approach when delivering a message/content and that is to focus on one thing. There is something to be said about the ability to escape the noise and have the ability to talk to your customer in a perfectly curated immersive experience. This uncharted territory for marketers affords the opportunity to be able to talk exclusively and heavily influence buyers into a decision that can be made with confidence and the correct expectations. 

 

VR's influential tendencies means it can play an important role in the sharing stage "if I share a photo on Instagram, of a particular destination, people are like, ‘Oh, I want to see that in real life.’ They’re not like, ‘Oh, I’ve seen the photo now, that’s enough, I’m not going to go there.’ And I think VR will just fill that same space. Maybe people can record 360 video of their experience, show family and friends, and they're  like, ‘Oh, this is really cool!’ They’re more inclined to probably book and go there" Mortimer explains.

 

With the advancements in consumer level 360 cameras coupled with social media's support of this medium, it's plausible that VR could be the new way of diarising travel experiences and sharing on social media.

 

Managing expectations

Travel experiences are purchased in advance, from the comfort of home and majority of the time with an inability to see or try the experience before the purchase. It is this scenario that can cause headaches for many business owners with misinformed customers with misguided expectations. The struggle is, that it can be an honest and easy mistake for your patrons to get the wrong idea about your offering. Whether its through creative copy or photos taken with wide angle lens, unfortunately sometimes these are the only ways to communicate your product in a succint manner. Imagine though you can transport your prospective customer to the hotel room they wish to book, or the function space they wish to hold their wedding and personally guide them through the experience they are going to be investing in.

 

Delivering a true to life expectation offers amazing benefits throughout the purchasing cycle from the dreaming and booking stage to the sharing phase with customers arriving confidently and leaving adequately satisfied. However most importantly it ensures customers will  be confident of their purchase and extremely well informed. Michael Goldsmith, VP of Marketing from Las Vegas Convention authority knows all too well about customer expectations and perceptions "our consumers are influenced by images they’ve seen in the movies. So, you know, ten or twelve years ago when it was Oceans Eleven, we were like, ‘Yeah, look at that! Look how classy Las Vegas is!’ with George Clooney and Julia Roberts. Then you had the Hangover, and consumers were like, ‘Oh wait a minute!....VR really helps people get a different perspective of Las Vegas that they wouldn’t otherwise get unless they were travelling here’.

Using VR  for this purpose is particularly attractive to smaller operators on a lower budget. A number of factors can affect an operators ability to get penetration in a saturated market and deliver a message that entices people to your business while managing expectations appropriately. Elise Jakymin from Tourism Australia provides great insight "Travel, is a particularly expensive purchase. It’s not just like going out and buying a magazine or a book. So you want to have an idea of what you’re going to get at a destination, VR reduces the risk of a purchase, it helps you understand what you’re going to get when you get there. So I think that benefit will translate to smaller operators who might not be able to get their message across with smaller budgets. So I think that’s a really good marketing tool through just moving consumers throughout the purchase funnel."

Enhancing experiences

There is a relatively untapped market of how VR is being used in Tourism. While there is a number of cases in which VR has been used in destination marketing, there is very little implementation or even experimentation in using VR to enhance travel based experiences.

 

Enhancing experiences traditionally can often be met with a number of hurdles from resources, safety, infrastructure and budget however VR might be able to transform an experience for your customers that has very little impact on day to day operations.

 

Natural History Museum Los Angeles (View Case Study Here) undertook a massive VR exhibition that enabled them to help bring to life their vast marine collection. How businesses utilisie VR to enhance experiences really comes down to creativity and identifying what it is your customers want to engage with that you currently don't offer.

 

Is it a historical recreation of a national park, an aerial view of a natural landmark or the ability to go to the bottom of the bay that your ferry sails on. The possibilities are close to endless. 

 

Limitations & Threats

By no means is VR the answer to all problems, it is a complementary asset that can provide solutions to some problems and is a better version of other traditional solutions. However at its early stage its important to highlight some of the possible threats and limitations. The biggest concern often heard on the grapevine in particular from the tourism industry is "will VR replace real life experiences". The resounding answer to this is NO, at least not anytime soon. Ben from the VR Lab identifies "While we have headsets which provide nice visual and audio, having the interaction with the other senses – being able to smell the area at a particular location – let’s say, in the ocean – it’s not going to be the same, at least in our lifetime. So there’s always going to be things that you can do with a physical space that you can’t in VR, so I don’t envision it replacing conventional tourism". You cant underestimate what makes travel such unique attractive proposition. Its the process from dreaming to researching to purchasing, then realising those dreams and validating those purchases. Its sharing experiences with loved ones, friends & strangers you meet. Its the unexpected twists & turns, the good, the bad and the memories. VR will simply never replace these uniquely beautiful experiences that are the fabric of the tourism industry.

 

One big limitation of VR is reach. You can deliver content to 100,000’s with print material and some digital assests however for a true VR experience you are limited to the amount of headsets that are available to consumers, while no doubt that number is growing significalty and is expected to continue to grow each year, at this current stage its very few. As described by the team at the NHM with their VR exhibition “...with only 5 pods, reach was significantly shorter”. 

As discussed previosuly VR is a rather intimate and user driven experience and while this has its benefits, it presents the issue of a larger workload placed on the user to drive this experience. A user must firstly want to experience VR and then facilitate the means to do so in order to consumer your content. While the want at this point is an easy sell due to the novelty of immersive technology the means can be a little trickier. Its is for the reason to decide as part of a VR strategy how easy you will make it for customers to find and engage with your VR experience. This being said any content you produce doesn’t have to go to waste due to the support of 360 videos from facebook and youtube it means your assets have access to a much greater reach.

 

Another barrier can be cost, while this is dropping dramatically it can still be a significant investment depending on the outcome you desire. With large investments from major corporations there is no doubt that cost will be reduce as production ramps up and demand increases. However if looking to produce 360 video content, suprisingly the costs dont vary much to that of traditional video production. Options vary from high end productions to a more DIY approach, which is what i have tried to articulate through this research. Ben Horan Associate Professor from Deakin University explains "If a 360 video costs a certain amount of money to be made,  it’s not necessarily more than what a professional video costs to get made. There was a theory a 360 video’s going to cost me X-many thousand dollars which is comperable to a professionally produced video. Already BYOD is a possibility, bring your own device approach with the ubiquity of 360 cameras, you see people using them in the same way as a phone, shoot, edit and distribute"

It is also important to highlight any health impacts of such a new technology, however that is also the problem there have not been a huge amount of studies in adverse effects of VR. Most notably though is motion sickness. While Virtual reality has come a long way through technological advancements in terms of combating motion sickness, it still can occur in some instances. A big problem that would face, in particular the tourism industry, would be poorly produced 360 video content. Video footage tracking in an abnormal manner or moving around quickly could cause some people to feel ill. It is important to know how you want your content to be consumed. As an example if your viewer was more likely to be seated in a stationary poisition with limited head movement you make the content more isolated however if it was to be viewed in more active position then you might be a bit more creative with movement. 

 

The other obvious concern is that of the impact on sight. While research specifically on this is scarce you could apply the research that has been done on the effects of screens on our eye sight in particular from handheld devices. The most common side effects after extended use are eye strain and dry eyes, which can be related to the convergence-accommodation reflex (as mentioned in the Technology section). Experts are aware of this and have theorised a few answers, however they are yet to categorically announce a concrete solution as they continue to test these theories. ​It is for this reason the suggested time frames in any VR experience should be less then 30 mins before a break should take place. 

CASE STUDIES

Tourism

Australia

Natural History Museum LA

Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority 

LA Tourism & Convention Board