How virtual tourism will help enhance real-world travel
With the correct equipment, you can travel to destinations all over the world without ever having to leave your home.
Well, virtually, anyway.
And these days, the correct equipment is something as simple as a smart phone, tablet or home computer. If you want to get vaguely fancy, you can add a virtual reality headset to the mix.
As technological innovations have improved virtual reality capabilities and popularized the medium, virtual tours have become more commonplace. You can use VR to check out a casino or museum from your couch, visit Red Rock Canyon from your favorite recliner or take a trip to Bath while you’re in your bath (just make sure you don’t drop whatever device you’re using).
When VR tours are done well, it almost feels like you’re there — which begs the question: Will people start checking destinations off their bucket lists by booting up a device instead of booking travel and actually making a real life trip?
According to many — and especially the people who are making, facilitating and witnessing people use tours — virtual reality will actually help ramp up tourism.
Using VR to invigorate IRL tourism
Virtual reality is one of the most amazing technologies in existence, but it still pales in comparison to actual reality — especially when it comes to making the memories that are inherently bound to in-real-life traveling experiences.
When you’re on a trip or vacation, you’re immersed in your destination 24 hours a day, having varied and unique experiences.
"You can’t replicate that in VR, but you can give people a preview and understanding of what they would experience if they went to visit physically," says Abi Mandelbaum, CEO and co-founder of YouVisit, an organization that specializes in VR tours.
Mandelbaum believes VR tours do — and will continue to — positively influence real trips, and YouVisit has stats that back it up. The organization’s analytics have found that more than 13% of people who take a VR tour of a destination have their interest piqued enough to take the next step in the process of planning an actual trip, which is to say they either book travel and/or lodging, or get in contact to learn more about making an IRL visit.
Research shows that approximately two out of three US travelers say they would be influenced by being exposed to VR experiences, according to Caroline Coyle, vice president of brand strategy for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA).
Joost Schreve compares the positive effect VR tours have had on real-world tourism to how television’s inception affected tourism. The founder of kimkim, a travel planning service that connects travelers with local experts, says that when TV rose to prominence, people would say there was no need for them to travel to a certain place since they could see it without leaving their couch.
"But that didn’t happen," he says. "It actually inspired people to travel more."
VR tours positive role in trip planning
VR tours are effective not only in enticing people to visit an area, but in helping them plan out what they’re going to do and how they’re going to spend their time once they’re there.
Imagine you’ve got a week’s vacation planned, or a three-day work trip. In either scenario, you want to make the most of your time, doing the things that appeal most to you and your family, friends or colleagues.
Incorporating virtual tours into your planning process can help in a big way. It’s a super-technological "try before you buy" tool that lets you get a taste for an area or activity before you actually decide to go.
“It’s just short of the real thing,” says Richard Broo, founder and CEO of Wemersive, a company that works with ad agencies, brands, film studios and production companies to bring unique mobile VR experiences to the masses. “It allows you to quickly experience things that would otherwise take you weeks to research … It’s kind of like teleporting yourself into an experience, and it’s a great way to make a shortlist for your trip.”
"A successful sort of travel experience is one where a person ends up having an awesome time and coming back and telling their family and friends" says Mendelbaum. "VR tours give the visitor a much better sense of what they’re able to experience [in a certain area], therefore they’re more empowered to do the things they love while they there, and come out of the trip raving to everyone."
He adds that the planning process is more fun if you’re using VR.
"Instead of sifting through a ton of websites, how about spending 10 minutes or so learning more about the location in a fully immersive environment?" he says.
The case study: Virtual Vegas
Las Vegas is among the tourism destinations proactively embracing VR tours to attract and enable visitors, having recently launched a virtual reality companion app, called Vegas VR. The LVCVA teamed up with Wemersive to make the app that complements the immersive desktop experience, GeoVegas, which offers 360 video tours of attractions, hotels and more.
"Virtual reality is the future of vacation planning,” said Cathy Tull, senior vice president of marketing for the LVCVA. "Users are able to explore what Las Vegas has to offer in a virtual setting and gain the excitement needed to book their own Las Vegas adventure.”
For a destination like Vegas — a destination with a huge host of diverse options — this VR offering allows travelers a chance to plot out a trip that suits their travel style and desires. It even offers custom-built itineraries for food lovers, first timers and more. By creating a hub for exploration, Las Vegas is driving people who may not have otherwise considered the city to book, while also making it easier for repeat visitors to plan their next trip.
“We think our Vegas VR app is the next evolution in technology for current fans and future customers,” says Coyle. “It provides them with a great opportunity to see the latest and greatest things we have to offer.”
Coyle adds that if people want to relive their experience or share it with friends and family after the trip, it adds an additional element to word-of-mouth stories, which in turn might capture their attention and spur the decision to take their own trip to Las Vegas.
Explore GeoVegas for yourself and remember that "What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas" does not technically transcend into virtual reality.