Could virtual reality travel experiences become the new normal given the turmoil in the global travel industry? In this interview with Ed Limon, industry expert and CEO of Winged Whale MediaIn Toronto, we’re talking about how virtual reality and augmented reality can change the way we travel. Although it is unclear what the future of travel will look like, we are already looking forward to the inevitable recovery. This article is for marketing professionals, tourism companies, and content creators who are already developing strategies for this future.
The new reality
You are Cycling in the Austrian Alps. You can hear the sound of the wind blowing past you as you fill your lungs with the fresh mountain air. Cowbells ring in the distance. The first signs of a breathtaking Alpine summer can be seen in the fields around you – red vanilla orchid, blue monkhood, mountain arnica, all in bloom.
Your local guide explains how Breathe in natural alpine forest scents is a great therapy for respiratory diseases. You reach down to touch the grass … and only then remember that you are exploring a virtual Alpine forest.
This type of travel could become the new “normal”.
The way we travel may never be the same again. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic will have a lasting impact on global (business and personal) travel preferences, behaviors, and attitudes in the short and long term.
With global flight operations and countries temporarily closing borders and introducing travel bans, the travel industry is breaking new ground in 2020. A step that unfortunately threatens companies, jobs and livelihoods around the world. The global economic shock waves will continue to reverberate for a while as we make all adjustments.
The immediate impact of this new reality on industry is that physical travel is currently at an all-time low. Could technologies like virtual reality keep us traveling for a short time without having to leave home? Could virtual and augmented reality travel experiences become the new normal?
Virtual reality in travel marketing
Weeks before the corona virus became a global pandemic, we spoke to Ed Limon, Toronto, digital media producer and creative director at Winged Whale Media, to discuss Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) and how these technologies strategies influence global travel marketing.
Drivers of this forecast include advances in smartphone technology, faster connection speeds (Think 5G), and improvements in the innovation of VR hardware and software led by companies like Google, Samsung, HTC, and Oculus.
VR and AR are the interface between immersive experience and the latest technology. This intersectionality has been used to great effect by industries such as gambling, education and training. Websites like YouTube and Facebook (to name just a few) now support 360-degree content.
Virtual reality tourism already exists in the travel industry. For example hotels like Marriott Already use virtual reality to offer virtual 360-degree tours of their properties, while destination marketing organizations (DMOs) like Visit Florida have used VR to offer “experience tasters” to potential customers who may be planning vacation.
Virtual Reality Travel Experiences – Questions and Answers
Ed Limon believes the full potential of VR and AR in the travel industry has not yet been exhausted. In this interview, we discuss use cases for VR / AR and examine how brands and content creators can successfully use these technologies.
HDYTI: Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little more about Winged Whale Media?
Ed Limon: I am a digital media producer and creative director at Winged Whale Media. We are in Brampton, an area just outside of Toronto. We started producing traditional consumer advertising and video content marketing in 2007 before adding VR and AR to our digital content portfolio.
With our VR / AR expertise, we have created a variety of consumer content, including training and educational content. In the travel industry, one of our earliest customers was the Antigua & Barbuda Tourism Board. More recently we have worked with the Spanish cruise line Pullmantur to produce amazing content. Our other travel customers include tourism associations from Mexico, Dominica, the Bahamas and the USA.
HDYTI: Can you get Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality to the point of a non-technical person? What are the main differences between the two?
Ed Limon: VR and AR are two related but different technologies. Virtual reality primarily replaces the physical environment and offers a comprehensive experience with VR-enabled devices. Think of VR as a virtual photo tour with moving and interactive elements.
When you market a destination to consumers, the next best thing is to actually visit the destination. Ultimately, VR cannot replace the real experience, but it can be used to great effect to motivate potential visitors while we wait for this unprecedented travel ban on corona viruses.
In a virtual food tour and a cooking class, you can, for example, embed various elements, e.g. B. Speaking heads of local chefs, farmers, breeders and producers who show up in real time and can report on ingredients and food history in different places during the experience.
On the other hand, augmented reality is an emerging technology that focuses on interacting with a real physical environment. With AR, you can bring this physical place to life by overlaying digital elements. AR is about turning a 2D environment into a 3D interactive experience.
Think of Pokémon GO (the popular Nintendo game). This is an excellent example of how to improve a physical environment using advanced levels.
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Tourism
HDYTI: Can you give some examples and use cases for VR and AR in the travel and hospitality industry?
Ed Limon: For sure. We once did a training for Fiesta Americana travel agencies to inform them about their hotels and experiences in Cuba.
Instead of simply relying on traditional paper brochures and PowerPoint training resources, we adapted the material using virtual reality headsets and were able to bring the entire presentation to life. The Sunwing Vacations agents felt right there. We immediately saw their conversations become more passionate.
The new reality is that tourism associations / travel companies may not be able to fly their media and distribution partners to try out their destinations and properties for some time. However, VR can be the next best.
VR can become an integral part of the sales experience. We have testimonials where customers make buying decisions based on what they saw in a VR experience at a trade show.
Especially with expanded realityTravel brands / tourism authorities can use smartphone technology to minimize paper / printing costs and improve their environmental impact by reducing paper waste.
And where tourist offices distribute paper cards, they could use AR to bring these cards to life. When visitors to your destination explore the area, you can use push notifications to inform them of historical facts, local attractions, and small businesses that they may want to check. This is an effective way to bring the local economy into the tourism ecosystem.
Data derived from the use of AR can be excellent for analysis and provide deep insight into consumer behavior.
While we’re all dealing with this block, VR and AR technology can be used to educate, seduce, and inspire people about travel.
HDYTI: Virtual Reality has promised a lot in the past 5 years, but the widespread acceptance in the travel industry is still low. Why do you think that’s the case?
Ed Limon: I actually see it differently. In my view, VR acceptance increases and does not decrease. When VR was first introduced, things weren’t going very well, mainly due to software and hardware issues.
Like any new technology, VR had its ups and downs. Since large platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Vimeo use VR and see it as a driver of innovation, we have a bright future ahead of us. Steven Speilbergs Ready player one Film was a big confirmation from VR.
Where do brands and content creators start?
HDYTI: How can travel and tourism brands start their journey in VR and AR? Should you choose one over the other?
Ed Limon: I think the first thing the brand has to do is spend time thinking about their strategy. Would you like to use VR / AR for advertising, sales, training or brand awareness? VR and AR are different technologies, and deploying one or the other requires a slightly different approach.
Do you want to use the headsets? If not, that’s fine. There are ways to deploy VR without headsets.
Companies like ours can help brands advance their AR / VR marketing strategies. We usually start with a first consultation. We try to find out what fears and phobias they have about VR and AR and present various solutions and suggestions that could address these concerns.
If the brand decides to continue, we move on to the pre-production phase. This phase is the key to a successful product. In pre-production we ask questions like the mood you want to create. Which products do you want to highlight? How many videos do you want to create? During this time, we work closely with the brand to develop a compelling script / storyboard.
During production, we manage planning and logistics, including communicating with members of the public and signing waivers. Ongoing stakeholder engagement is very important to overcome hurdles throughout the production life cycle. The real magic happens in post-production.
HDYTI: What about travel content creators like us? What is the best way for us to add VR / AR to our customer suggestions?
Ed Limon: Given the costs and skills involved, I think it’s best to work with VR and AR specialists.
Companies like ours are in a unique position to bring content creators, drone pilots, production teams and software developers together under one roof. Travel and tourism agencies, as well as target marketing organizations, could benefit from a one-stop shop for VR / AR knowledge that includes content creators like you.
Could virtual reality travel experiences become the new normal?
The world currently feels very claustrophobic to the travel industry. Understandably, the global priority at the moment must be to make our world feel safe again.
Virtual reality can never really replace the flight before boarding a flight to a new destination. Technology cannot really replace the unique sensations, sights, sounds and flavors we experience when we arrive, and the cultural interactions that enrich our understanding of these places.
As the world continues to deal with the ongoing pandemic, virtual and augmented reality technologies may step in and further fuel our wanderlust. Maybe virtual reality travel experiences could become our new normal … but only for a while (we hope).
What do you think?
Many thanks to Ed Limon and Winged Whale Media for this interview opportunity. To find out more about them Visit their website.
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