Virtual Reality: The New Frontier of Hotel and Destination Marketing?

Virtual reality is the hot new buzzword in destination marketing. But is it a tool that will change travel marketing or a fad doomed to be forgotten?

How much attention should you be paying to the buzz about virtual reality – the latest, greatest marketing trick? From potential applications within the travel and tourism industries to the limitations of this emerging technology, we’re gazing into our crystal ball for some high-tech predictions.

The Case for Virtual Reality in Travel and Tourism Marketing

One reason video marketing has seen such a meteoric rise to success over the past few years is that it offers marketers a unique opportunity to follow the adage of “show, don’t tell.” Now, thanks to virtual reality, your prospective guests have the chance to experience your property in living color as a part of their buying journey.

According to YouTube’s analytics, 13 percent of those who take virtual reality tours as part of the trip-planning process will go on to book travel/lodging or get in touch to learn about making an in real life (IRL) visit. Two out of every three US travelers would be influenced by experiencing VR, per Caroline Coyle, vice president of brand strategy for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

If that sounds like a solid ROI, we have a few suggestions on how your hotel could utilize the technology most effectively:

  • Virtual tours of rooms – If a guest can wander through your presidential suite, check out the king-sized bed, step out on the balcony to take in the view, and wander through the en suite bathroom to peruse the amenities, an upgrade is much more likely.
  • Virtual tours of the property and activities within – Show off your pool area, the white sand beach, your spa, the lush grass on the golf course.
  • Virtual reality destination guides – Are there must-see adventures to be had in your destination? Take your cues from Matoke Tours, an African travel operator, who launched a virtual brochure that allows prospective travelers to ride meet a mountain gorilla as part of their travel research.
  • In-room VR entertainment – Marriott has already jumped on this bandwagon, though it remains how many guests are taking them up on the offer.


Who Is Already Onboard with Virtual Reality?

So far, only some of the biggest consumer brands, like United Airlines to Volvo to The North Face, have been able to allocate the funds required for major virtual reality-based marketing campaigns. However, within a year, it has been forecasted that there will be around two million VR devices in the hands of consumers, and total sales from VR-related hardware and software will reach a cool $1 billion in the United States. Similar to how video marketing was inaccessible to small- to mid-size brands only a few years ago, as VR begins to flood the market, costs will come down.

That’s good news, because according to a survey of 1,300 adults, 53 percent said they’d be more likely to purchase from a brand that uses VR than from one that doesn’t, and 71 percent of those surveyed said that the use of VR makes a brand seem “forward thinking and modern.”

Why Virtual Reality Might Not Be the “Next Big Thing” in Hotel and Destination Marketing…At Least, Not Yet

Remember when QR codes were going to be the bridge between print marketing and digital engagement? It sounded great, in theory, but no one wanted to download an app to read QR codes. Virtual reality is no different – there’s massive potential, but the execution must be flawless or the technology will be abandoned.

First off, you should consider that VR headsets appear to be on their way to becoming a mainstream accessory, but the type of computer upon which “full feature” VR content can be played is not. Full feature VR is designed to play on an advanced gaming system or a computer with advanced graphics cards that allow high refresh rates. Your run-of-the-mill laptop isn’t going to cut it. In fact, a subpar computer could induce motion sickness as it’s not fast enough to produce a fluid experience. Until the average consumer has a home PC or Mac that can play full feature VR content flawlessly, it means that any VR content you produce is going to have to be experienced as part of an immersive marketing experience, like the pop-up demonstration Marriott executed. As Deloitte’s 2016 predictions feature on virtual reality summed up very eloquently: “Travel companies should assess the cost associated with acquiring the hardware needed to display these materials.”

The Middle Ground Solution for Right Now

What’s an interim solution for small to medium hotel and destination brands hungry to offer a more experiential video marketing experience without going whole hog in on VR? We have two recommendations to keep on your radar or explore:

  • Mobile VR – Geared toward use with a smartphone and a simple headset, this type of VR content is much more approachable for both marketers and consumers. Users will still get a high-quality VR experience and marketers can escape the steep price tag of full feature VR content.
  • 360 video – Although it’s more expensive than regular video, mostly because of the equipment required, it’s still less of an investment than mobile or full feature VR and doesn’t require a headset, while still being a reasonably engaging immersive marketing experience.

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