Immersive visual experiences such as Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are the latest creative additions to the ever-expanding industry of travel and hospitality. These trends have come a long way in a relatively short time in the tech industry and are usually associated with video games where users can immerse themselves in a virtual world and even manipulate objects and engage in certain actions. VR hardware has seen a dramatic drop in price in the last 5 years and this has started to increase accessibility and use.
But how exactly are immersive visual experiences apply to travel and tourism? Does it work and is it a trend that is likely to be profitable?
In a recently published Adventure Trends Report, VR was amongst the most popular trends in the travel industry, although its development is still at its infancy. With the need of consumers to buy ‘experiences’ rather than products on the rise, VR offers a potentially attractive way of allowing customers a ‘test-drive’ before they pay. Imagine being able to climb the top of a snowy mountain or scuba dive alongside manta rays deep in the Red Sea- without ever having to leave your living room.
The industry often refers to the functions known as the ‘3 Es’: Enabling, Escaping and Enriching. At its current state of developing, Enabling is by far the most obvious function of VR and it usually applies to the very early stages of the customer’s journey. Travellers spend a lot of time researching, googling images and videos of particular places but VR does away with that. Planning ahead using VR might help reduce disappointment. Many companies already offer AR versions of their products, be them hotel rooms or travel experiences, that can simply be accessed by the customer’s smartphone. Escaping can help customers literally escape from mundane long journeys and unpleasant experiences by immersing themselves in whatever VR has to offer. And Enriching refers to enhancing the traveller’s experience once they are already at their destination.
One of the most exciting possible uses for VR is to cater for those who are unable to travel. Some companies are currently experimenting with attending to the sense of wanderlust of those who cannot visit destinations far away maybe due to health or mobility reasons. From a more ethical perspective, it can even help with over-tourism as customers can visit places without actually being physically there.
But there are potential downsides as well. VR programs and platforms can be very costly to develop and implementation and investment can be a considerable risk given that there is no real hard data about their overall usefulness or customer popularity yet. And there may a paradoxical side effect too: if virtual reality can someday provide an inimitable travel experience without the need to actually travel, how much of a threat is this to the travel industry? Might it stop customers from spending thousands of dollars on booking planes, hotels and experiences?
It’s early days yet for VR in the travel industry but it’s certainly a trend to keep an eye on