Get ready for the age of virtual reality tourism, folks! In recent years, VR and AR (that’s augmented reality) technology have come on leaps and bounds. They’re no longer simply the preserve of gamers. Travelers and the travel industry are now very much in on the act…
From classy destination introductions that make you feel like you’re really there to immersive hotel walkthroughs that are the ultimate try-before-you-buy experience, there’s all sorts that these new techs can offer. But that’s just scratching the surface.
This guide runs through six examples of VR and AR to show how virtual reality tourism is fast becoming a regular part of the travel experience.
At-home travel experiences at your fingertips
The cost of VR equipment has plummeted in recent years. Oculus Quest, Vive, HTC, Sony – there are oodles of global brands now producing headsets and gear specifically for the home market. It’s a process that’s only been spurred on by the coronavirus pandemic, as people look to get immersive experiences from the comfort of their own home.
Tour providers and travel publishers have been fast to capitalize. They’ve moved to create exciting packages that can help you explore the planet without having to actually board a flight. Whether you want to fly-through the rugged, rust-rock Narrows of the Zion National Park or scale to the tops of the Eiffel Tower, that’s all now doable without leaving the living room. Cool, huh?
There was a time when booking a hotel was a roll of the dice. All you’d get was a write-up and a few small-scale photos in a travel brochure. Then came the internet and sites like Booking.com and Hotels.com, which meant prospective guests could easily check out the style and quality of rooms, not to mention oodles of reviews, before selecting their stay.
There’s a chance that the next big change in the world of accommodation booking will come courtesy of virtual reality, which allows travelers to literally step inside a virtual version of the hotel or resort!
At the moment, this sort of thing is largely reserved for the classiest hotels out there, with establishments like the colossal five-star Atlantis in Dubai already in the game. However, it’s likely that hotel marketing walkthroughs will become more mainstream in coming years, especially as VR gear gets cheaper and cheaper on the consumer end.
Augmented landmarks and destinations
Augmented reality tech is perfect for taking tours and landmark-rich destinations to a whole other level of awesome. Once upon a time, travelers would either need to engage a guide (usually for quite a bit of cash) or heave a huge book around with them. No longer. AR to the rescue!
Yep, there are now countless apps for smartphones and tablets that will let you delve into the history, culture, and heritage of a destination simply by pointing your device. You could be gazing at the Colosseum in Rome, flick up the Android and viola, the great terraces are now annotated with information about the year they were built, what emperors oversaw their construction, and a whole load more.
For discovering hidden places to eat and things to see
The “hidden gem” has become such a sought-after thing in travel that it now borders on cliché. Still, who doesn’t want to experience a place like a local? Who doesn’t want to find the bars where the city’s own folk frequent? The pizza joints that are the finest in town?
One way to do that is to make use of AR apps like Wikitude. They let you overlay the world you’re seeing with layer upon layer of recommendations. That might be for coffeeshops or teahouses, for vegan eateries or shopping malls. All you need to do is point your camera and choose away.
VR tourism promotions and videos
You might say that the main aim of tourist board productions is to transport a would-be traveler to a place and make them want to visit for real. Purveyors of new tech might add that there’s simply nothing better for doing just that than VR. It lets creatives produce fantastically immersive marketing materials that promise to be a whole load more powerful than simple pictorial ads or text.
Take Monoscopic VR travel videos. They can be viewed on any device, so don’t require expensive headsets or gear to be enjoyed by millions. And they’re a whole load more enthralling than most tourism vids, allowing users to drag their mouse in all directions – up, down, side to side – as if they’re really standing in the shot.
The whole thing offers a totally new perspective on a place. It lets you get a feel for a destination you might be thinking about traveling to. Or, it can give a fix of much-needed wanderlust while you’re stuck at home. You just need to decide where you want to click around. Will it be the marble-clad Duomo of Florence or the buzzy core of the Big Apple?
Beacon technology for added functionality
Virtual reality tourism and augmented reality tourism don’t always have to be like something out of a Sci-Fi flick. Some aspects of these technologies are downright practical and useful. One perfect example of that is the increasing use of beacon technology in hotels and tourism attractions.
Beacons are essentially small ping devices that send out ultra-low-energy signals to smartphones. They can be installed pretty much anywhere, are easy to conceal, but can be configured for a multitude of purposes.
Some are now active in hotel hallways, allowing guests to unlock their room door when they’re getting close (wave goodbye to fiddly entry cards and keys!). Others help marketing departments keep track of which customers enjoy what parts of their museum or gallery the most, by pinging visitors who linger in front a particular painting or installation.
Augmented reality and virtual reality tourism are most certainly on the up. They’re about new, creative ways of doing travel and exploring the globe. If you can think of something we’ve missed off this list, we’d love to hear your additions in the comments below…