virtual reality

I remember my first encounter with virtual reality. Years ago, I was visiting the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, and they had a virtual reality installation among their other exhibits. I climbed into a luge and put on a bulky VR headset. Soon, I was racing down the track. I could see and hear what it was like to be a luge athlete in the 1980 games. The scraping of the sled on the ice. The fans cheering in the stands. The quick turns and fast descent.

It was frightening. My heart rate increased, my belly got a case of the butterflies, my head was spinning. It was downright thrilling.

And in the most memorable way. So memorable that I’m writing about it here, years later.

Virtual reality isn’t new, but it has continued to evolve. It’s transitioned from a 3D video experience to become a 4D immersion, a simulation so astonishingly realistic. Like household TVs or even smartphones, the entry level price may have been high at one point in time, but today, there’s no reason every brand shouldn’t have a VR experience. With mobile VR apps and the mainstreaming of 360-video, VR is easier to activate and more affordable than ever before. And the price is going to continue to drop as more VR players enter the market.

Mobile VR is made possible by devices like Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR. A user downloads an app, pairs their VR viewer with their device and voila! Oculus Rift (now owned by Facebook) is probably the best known virtual reality brand, using a computer, headset and controllers to create the simulation. With Rift, controllers immerse a person’s body into the experience, too.

To some marketers, virtual reality is simply a form of content delivered via a revolutionary media. The largest expense, today, comes from the virtual content creation, not the hardware. It can be a combination of 360-degree video, 3D video or computer-aided graphics that simulate an experience. VR gives users a chance to navigate through a city, explore the scenery or sample one of the local venues or activities miles away through this exciting content form. No matter how it’s done or what tech you use, it’s a great tool for tourism marketers.

“We think virtual reality is a great fit for tourism marketing. It lets our travel trade and media partners experience our destination in a new and unique way that has not been possible before.” // Marsha Walden, CEO, Destination BC

Experiential marketing campaigns that tap into virtual reality deliver high quality experiences that motivate a travel purchase.

Travel marketers used to rely on brochures and agents, then magazine ads and informative websites, later videos to sell their destinations. Today, the travel industry can transport someone virtually to their destination as a preview of what to expect upon arrival. VR experiences will never replace the actual vacation, but it does make tourism marketing come to life and excite travelers in new ways – before they even pack their bags.

By adding in special effects, such as movement, heat lamps or wind tunnels, the VR experience becomes even more memorable.

Virtual reality can be the entire brand-to-consumer experience, or just a layer within a larger experiential campaign. Take a look at how Old Irish craft beer sent consumers on a journey to an Irish pub using a mix of VR and reality:

According to TrendForce, the total value of the VR market will reach $6.7 billion in 2016 and will grow significantly to $70 billion in 2020. That’s a pretty hot forecast. This is one bandwagon you may not want to miss.

The tourism industry is already using virtual reality. Marriott Hotels has created an in-room virtual reality experience and released VR postcards. Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater teamed up with Uber to offer Chicagoans free rides during Warm Up Wednesdays. Those riding were entered to win a trip to St. Pete/Clearwater. A few of those cars had VR headsets that would immerse those in cold weather Chicago into a warmer landscape of Florida. Dollywood created a virtual reality experience for their Lightning Rod roller coaster. And Matoke Tours created an app that could be used with a cardboard viewer to allow travel enthusiasts to interact with the gorillas of Uganda.

“Before travelers just had a brochure or information on the website to inform their choices. Virtual reality allows them to get a true sense of the hotel and the excursions they can go on—it’s been a real game changer for us.” // Marco Ryan, Chief Digital Officer, Thomas Cook

In today’s busy world, travelers could easily rack up hours trying to decide on a destination and research things to do. VR has a different effect; the emotional connection it builds only takes a few minutes and is a much more memorable and persuasive tool.

“Immersion blurs the lines—between story and marketing, storyteller and audience, illusion and reality. That gives it enormous impact.” // Frank Rose, Sr. Fellow Digital Storytelling, Columbia University

If you’re a travel brand in need of creating an immersive consumer experience to boost traveler intent, please contact us.