Experts predict growth for VR in travel
Experts predict growth for VR in travel
08 FEBRUARY 2017 1:31 PM

Speakers at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit predicted that virtual reality will see significant use in travel as the technology is adopted by more consumers.

LOS ANGELES—Virtual reality is making leaps and bounds in both public interest and the level of technology available to consumers, and some experts in the space say that hotels and the larger travel industry could be among the biggest beneficiaries of that proliferation.

Greg Jones, director of augmented reality and virtual reality for Google, said he foresees travel-related uses for the technology surpassing the current most popular usage: gaming.

Gaming is “where the early adopters are, but once there is broader market reach, travel is a compelling use case,” he said.

Jones was one of the speakers on the “Virtual reality—Tools & applications with endless possibilities” panel at the 2017 Americas Lodging Investment Summit.

He said it’s important to note that virtual reality is not new technology, but what’s changing is the quality and availability of VR tech. He said virtual reality systems have existed since the 1980s, but back then would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now, he said, smartphones are able to provide VR experiences with inexpensive add-ons.

Michael Franz, co-founder of Panogs, said smartphones offering VR functionality will be a game-changer for consumers.

“What we’re using for most clients is (Google Cardboard) because there’s a low barrier to entry and it’s inexpensive,” he said. “It’s a great way to get to experience what VR is about, but the drawback is it’s an inferior experience to (an Oculus Rift).”

Jones noted that it’s good to get VR in front of more people, even if it isn’t the most high-end experience possible.

“80% of people who try VR want to try it again,” he said.

Where it’s at use in the hotel industry
Dorothy Dowling, chief marketing officer at Best Western Hotels & Resorts, said her company has been an early adopter of virtual-reality technology and sees multiple applications for it.

She said offering virtual tours of hotel properties goes a long way in growing consumer confidence while booking.

“It really is, to me, an evolution of that 360-degree tour,” she said. “The click model was somewhat curated, but the (virtual reality) is self-directed. It gives confidence moving down the booking experience.”

Dowling said that’s true for individual properties and across its brands, which was particularly important for Best Western in light of its recent significant brand refresh efforts.

“The problem we were trying to solve initially is education for a 70-year-young brand,” she said. “It helps with the brand refresh to bring that message to the forefront.”

And that wasn’t just true for leisure travelers. She said her company sees significant use of virtual reality as a sales-and-marketing tool with meeting planners and in corporate travel.

“There is hidden value in the B2B space,” Dowling said. “Corporate buyers don’t have the capacity (to visit in person) to do product assessments.”

How to make use of the technology
Dowling said any hotel company interested in making the most of virtual reality should put finding the right partners at the top of their to-do list.

“We couldn’t have done this without Google,” she said. “They helped identify a partner and put together a strong project management plan.”

She said the rollout efforts also included significant in-person education at the property level and working with photographers to get the content needed to fuel the experience. As she sees it, all hotels should get VR content when bringing a professional photographer on property.

“To me, it’s a ‘why not?’” Dowling said. “It elevates the consumer experience. … We’re monitoring how much usage it’s getting. Right now, it’s about the fundamentals of establishing viewership.”

With the technology that exists today, Franz said, it’s relatively easy for hotels to get VR content. He said it’s valuable content for consumers because it gives a deeper perspective than traditional hotel photography.

“The power of VR is it makes it much more difficult to hide all the bad things,” he said. “And the other thing that is really, really cool is VR gives you a sense of space. (With photography) it’s easy to make a small room look gigantic, but VR gives a true sense of space and of what things are really like.”

Next step: Augmented reality
Jones said the thing that excites him most about the trajectory of virtual reality is the growth in augmented reality. The difference between the two is virtual reality is an immersive experience that blocks out the “real world” while augment reality overlays the real world with virtual items and information.

“I can’t wait to stop walking around (having to look at my phone),” Jones said. “I’m looking forward to having an intuitive, always-on computing experience.”

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