Virtual reality technology is changing, and fast. Soon to hit the market, Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset which is worn like a pair of oversized goggles and, while still being refined, is already available to the public. Made to connect to computers and mobile devices, it gives users a 3D experience and allows them to feel like they’re walking around inside a virtual world.
But this technology isn’t only for gamers. With 3D mapping software, businesses can map out actual places and allow anyone, anywhere to experience a virtual reality walk-through. Using technology tools like an Oculus Rift headset, you could one day virtually visit a museum, explore a theme park, and even take a hike through one of our national parks.
This ability to take virtual trips raises an interesting question: Will VR help or hinder the tourism industry? Further, is it possible to make too much available online? How many will decide not to visit a far-away destination because they have already explored it virtually?
While this technology is still in its early days and likely won’t be ready for mass consumption for several years, the possibilities it presents are endless. When it comes to tourism, imagine what could become accessible online. The Louvre could showcase the Mona Lisa, letting millions see the masterpiece every single day. Anyone could climb the steps to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and enjoy the view. Machu Picchu, the Great Pyramid of Giza or the Mayan Temples? Been there, done that.
The trick will be not to give it all away for free, of course. Tourism destinations are hoping the new technology will act as a lure; by giving a taste of what they have to offer, venues hope to attract new tourists… and their money.
Virtual Reality Videos
One of the first corporations to use virtual reality to promote tourism is Destination BC. With Oculus Rift technology, they created their first video called The Wild Within VR Experience, and a 2D preview of the video is available on their YouTube channel.
The destination marketing video was filmed using a custom rig – built with a 3D printer, no less. Seven specialized HD cameras were mounted around the rig, allowing footage to be filmed by helicopter, by boat, by drone and on foot. The breathtaking views seen in the video were shot throughout the Great Bear Rainforest in beautiful British Columbia, Canada.
But is there value in using the latest virtual reality technology when it comes to marketing a tourism destination? Marsha Walden, CEO of Destination BC explained: “We think virtual reality is a great fit for tourism marketing. It lets our travel trade and media partners experience our destination in a new and unique way that has not been possible before.” The full version of The Wild Within VR Experience should be available to the public sometime this year and Destination BC is hoping it will entice new tourists to come and explore the Canadian province.
Would You Ever Take a Virtual Vacation?
So far, the tourism industry isn’t showing any signs of being harmed by today’s technology. Far from it. Maps and navigation apps only make traveling in unfamiliar cities easier, and Google Translate even offers real-time translating of spoken conversations. However, Oculus Rift could be a game-changer as it could potentially offer a too authentic substitute for the real thing. If it becomes too realistic, tourists may start to spend their money elsewhere: spas, fine dining and luxurious accommodation just don’t translate into a virtual world the way a museum visit might.
New forays into virtual reality aren’t limited to the tourism industry, with several other sectors also exploring the latest technology. The real estate industry is exploring the use of tech like Oculus Rift to promote property listings. Searching for a new home may become much easier in the future, allowing virtual reality tours of homes for rent and even including interactive features like opening closet doors.
But before jumping aboard, businesses need to ask themselves if using virtual reality is a sound marketing strategy. If anyone can experience online what your business has to offer, will they then spend their time and money for the real thing?
Only the future will tell, but travel, hotel accommodation and entrance fees ad up quickly and our vacation days are quite limited. If the virtual reality is too good, why would we trouble ourselves? Visiting virtually means no cramped airplanes and no jetlag; no bugs, no uncomfortable hotel beds and no tipping. All you need is a few minutes and a favorite chair to enjoy a cool new destination – even if it means no pina colada served in a hollowed out coconut.
Amy Fry is a former financial and business adviser who now writes about finance, business, and technology.