The continuing advancements in virtual reality have pushed this technology beyond just video games and into the realm of customer and guest experience. From immersive headsets to 360-degree video, virtual reality is popping up in more and more places. With VR being used for entertainment and educational purposes, we are starting to see that many kinds of businesses can benefit from this technology, and the travel industry is no exception.
What has really caught the eye of travel professionals is the way VR can replicate real destinations. A virtual environment with realistic sights and sounds can transport users to faraway places they have never been to before without having to get on a plane. From hiking the Rocky Mountains to exploring the streets of Tokyo, the options for users who want to see the world will be practically endless in the coming years.
Will Virtual Reality Replace Travel?
The incredible potential of this technology has led some travel and tourism professionals to view VR developers as the competition, fearing that virtual experiences might replace real ones. However, the hotel industry has a unique opportunity to capitalize on the rising popularity of virtual reality, as simulated environments are here to stay. Hotels shouldn’t see virtual reality as the competition, and can instead use it to provide an enhanced guest experience.
VR experiences are becoming increasingly immersive, but it will still be hard to match the real thing, even with all the additional sensory features of a VR rig. After all, a virtual trip to Rome does not come with the opportunity to indulge on pizza and gelato. Research suggests that visiting a destination through virtual reality will, if anything, make the user more inclined to actually visit the destination in real life. Just getting a taste of this new and exciting destination could end up being enough to convince an interested traveler to book their trip. For this reason, hospitality brands can leverage this technology to sell interested travelers on their hotels and their destinations in general.
Since it went mainstream, VR has become a significant part of cutting-edge experiential marketing campaigns for various products and services. A few forward-thinking hotel brands have already started experimenting with virtual reality in video forms, giving viewers a more complete idea of what the property is like before they book. From the hotel’s pools and restaurants to individual rooms, 360-degree video lets people who are interested in traveling practically “try before they buy.”
While conventional pictures and videos help potential guests imagine themselves at the destination, there are inherent drawbacks from the customer’s point of view. Some doubtful shoppers might think the hotel is misrepresenting the property with a few carefully framed photos of the rooms and facilities. However, virtual reality experiences make skeptics more confident about their choice, since it is a lot harder to hide flaws if guests have the ability to look around the room. Surveys have shown that most customers find it useful to see the product they are interested in purchasing from every angle before they buy it, and this interest is not limited to shopping for clothes and accessories.
From Booking to Check-Out
This ability to explore the room gives the potential guest more power over their booking experience, a common thread among emerging traveler trends. However, this hotel technology has applications that go far beyond the booking process, with brands like Marriott exploring in-stay VR experiences.
Marriott’s VRoom Service, launched in 2015, lets travelers explore different corners of the world from the comfort of their hotel room, allowing users to immerse themselves in a virtual environment during their stay. While it may seem strange to offer guests a virtual destination experience while on their “real life” vacations, these VR narratives are another way to create a unique guest experience. This trend is in line with recent traveler preferences, as a growing number of travelers are prioritizing the chance to do something new and memorable during their trip.
For travelers who want to go out and explore the destination they are visiting while still getting a unique technological experience, augmented reality could be the perfect combination. Similar to virtual reality, augmented reality uses head tracking to follow people’s movements, and both use many of the same kinds of technology. AR seems to be a logical fit for travelers embarking on self-guided tours and trips, as it allows people to interact with the world in front of them while simultaneously providing computer-generated enhancements. This is naturally appealing to hotel brands since augmented reality experiences that take place in the hotel will still be intrinsically connected to the user’s impression of that hotel. Bringing AR into the world of hotel tech also gives travelers the chance to use this technology throughout their trip, not just while they are planning it.
With augmented reality, travelers can use their mobile devices to learn more about the landmarks they are visiting. While this may seem like something travelers could get from a simple Google search, this technology can also let users discover significant cultural or historical sights that they would have otherwise walked right by. Augmented reality provides immediate information to guests, giving them the answers to questions they have yet to ask. This proactive measure gives travelers the tools they need to get the most out of their stay.
Is VR the Future of Guest Experience?
Since virtual reality is still in its infancy, it is difficult to tell which aspects will be the best fit for hotels. There are also concerns about the cost of investing in virtual experiences when there is still some uncertainty about what direction this area of innovation is going. However, with VR headsets becoming increasingly popular, this technology is sure to factor into the future of the industry in a big way. This is why it is critical for hospitality professionals to know how VR and AR can be used to elevate guest experience.
Virtual and augmented reality are just two tools that can be used to enhance guest experience and exceed the expectations of today’s traveler. One way to learn more about these expectations is with The Strategic Guide To: New Tech & Traveler Trends, which explores how hotel tech can be used to satisfy the modern traveler’s ever-changing needs.