Virtual Reality in Tourism

Posted by on Oct 25, 2016 in Tech, Travel | No Comments

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We recently got back from a 2 week shoot for a luxury river cruise company in Europe. Of course, we shot traditional video, photos were taken, blog posts were written… the full nine yards. What makes this shoot interesting however was that we decided to do a ‘proof of concept’ with virtual reality (VR) and see what we could create. We got to cut our teeth on bleeding edge tech and see what it’s all about. Is VR a fad? Hell no.

It’s easy to imagine the possibilities and implications this tech will have for tourism. I like to keep my finger on the pulse with these technologies, and I truly feel like VR is here to stay. I believe it will have a big impact how we consume media in the future. Although this sentiment isn’t shared by all people, the irony is most of the naysayers have actually yet to try it. VR is unique in that until you have first hand experience it’s very difficult to understand why it’s so special and ground breaking. Once you put it on, you will ‘get’ it.

Luckily, this is getting easier and easier. You can find demo stations in many stores right now (Best Buy, EB Games, London Drugs in Canada for instance), and more and more 360 video is popping up online. In fact, as of writing this, Sony just launched it’s first foray into the mix with it’s ‘Playstation VR’ headset. It’s offer is aggressively priced compared to it’s competitors and uniquely positioned as there are currently 40 million PS4’s sold worldwide. Early reports are saying that the headsets are flying off the shelves. Santa will be busy this year.

‘Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.’ – Gretzky

I personally had the opportunity to try VR for the first time earlier this year at NAB in Las Vegas. NAB is the largest film and television convention in the world, where all of the top minds congregate to talk shop, tech and business. Imagine 1,000,000 square feet worth of tech, video, cameras, lights, and VR. It was… incredible.

I ended up trying three different VR offerings: the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift, and the Samsung Gear VR.

Samsung Gear VR: This is the cheapest and most basic of the three. Essentially it’s a headset you slide your mobile phone into. Honest impressions: It didn’t resonate with me. I thought the image quality was poor overall and the demos they were presenting were not engaging to me. That being said, it’s cheap, accessible and a great entry point into budget VR. It works in a pinch and I anticipate the technology will only get better and better.

 

Occulus Rift: This is the most well known of all the VR headsets and the one I was most excited about. Occulus is what started the VR craze when it’s wildly successful Kickstarter launched a few years ago. It raised $2.5 million through crowd funding before being acquired by Facebook in 2014 for $2 billion. Nice. Zuckerberg has big plans to run with it too, integrating the experience into the Facebook platform. At NAB, I was able to try an artsy tech demo. It placed me in the centre of what was essentially a music video involving streams of light and dancing robotic figures. Goofy? Yes. Immersive and complete sensory euphoria? Hell yes. It was actually a really interesting and relaxing experience. I left impressed.

HTC Vive: The king pin– this has the best technical specs overall and it showed. I was able to try an incredible tech demo that placed me on the bow of a ship 500 feet underwater on the bottom of the ocean. What sets the HTC Vive apart from it’s competition (at least for now), it allows you to physically walk through the VR space. The controllers tracked my hand movements and I could ‘see’ my virtual hands. I was able to walk to the edge of this sunken ship and look over the railing into the abyss below me. Fish swam by me, sharks and even a massive whale. The sense of awe, wonderment and immersivness was unbelievable. I instantly became a believer in VR after this. I actually felt like I was underwater!

Although video games are the obvious application to VR, my mind began buzzing on the implications it could have within the tourism industry. It’s hard for me to stress just how immersive the experience was– you truly have to try it. I was there. I was underwater and totally enveloped in the experience. Imagine being able to walk through your stateroom on a ship before you embark? Being able to check out the beach of your resort before you book? How are my seats in the theatre? This is the power of VR.

Are people using it?

Yes! In fact, a few forward thinking early adopters have already began utilizing it. I’m proud to say Destination BC (I live in Vancouver) has ran with this technology and created a unique piece called ‘The Wild Within VR Experience’.

A couple things to note before you watch:

1) You’ll need to be using Chrome or Firefox to view this video in 360 on your browser. (Safari is not supported yet). Click and drag your mouse on the video to look around!

2) Mobile will work– move your phone around!

3) If you view this on your browser or phone it’s classified as ‘360 Video’. If you view this with a headset (i.e.: Oculus Rift, Gear VR) it is classified as Virtual Reality. 360 video works in a pinch, but you’re only getting a fraction of the experience.

You can view it here:

My personal favourite however is this one, created by Quantas Airlines and Hamilton Island (in Australia). This video is mind-blowingly awesome and really sells the destination in a phenomenal way. I particularly enjoyed the sail boat shots at roughly 6:27. If that doesn’t make you want to book a plane ticket nothing will.

The Future.

Virtual Reality is here to stay. With major influential brands like Sony, Samsung and Facebook making monstrous investments in this technology, it will only grow and become more mainstream as time progresses. Virtual reality is a unique way for tourism brands to engage an audience and showcase their destinations or experiences on a surprisingly intimate level. Have you tried it yet? Make sure you do!

The future is now, the possibilities are endless, and I for one, am damn excited to see where it goes.

  • APS_Chris

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