Though it’s not commonplace yet in the meetings industry, virtual reality tourism is here, and it’s been a topic of discussion for some time now—the subject of many tech experts’ bickering about its true value and place in the world of tourism. It seems that the trend that we continue to be told to watch out for is finally taking off in a real way.
At the February MPI Northern California Conference and Expo in San Francisco, technology trainer and Smart Meetings contributor Jim Spellos started his tech education session with Google Cardboard pressed to his face, swiveling around the stage as he was transported far outside of the conference room. This, he argued to the crowd, was the future of tourism.
Facebook CEO and tech mogul Mark Zuckerberg echoed this sentiment at the Mobile World Congress wireless show in Barcelona, Spain on Feb. 22.
“Imagine holding a group meeting or event anywhere in the world,” Zuckerberg said, after making a surprise appearance at Samsung Electronics Co.’s unveiling of a new 360-degree VR camera. “Right now, virtual reality is mostly used for games and entertainment, but that’s quickly evolving. One day you’ll be able to put on a headset that’ll change the way you live, work and communicate.”
Facebook recently announced on a blog that it has hopped on the virtual reality bandwagon, going as far as creating a team to explore the future of video chatting and conferencing.
Virtual Reality Tourism Takes Off
Spain’s Catalonia region tourism booth now features a VR chair, encouraging conference-goers to buckle-up in a moving leather chair, strap on a headset and explore footage of Catalonian experiences filmed with GoPro Inc. cameras, including a tour of FC Barcelona’s 99,000-capacity Camp Nou soccer stadium.
“Instead of handing them leaflets, we give them the real experiences,” said Ferran Macia of the Catalan Tourist Board. “We have proof that if travel agencies use VR, sales actually increase.”
In Janurary, Tourism Australia announced its newest campaign would use 17 virtually reality experiences and 360-degree videos to give potentially visitors a genuine feel for what a vacation down under would be like.
“Virtual Reality and 360 videos are important because rather than just showing how beautiful Australia is, it will get to the ultimate customer benefit which is how you feel when you come to Australia,” CMO Lisa Ronson said. “Our purpose is all about inviting the world to live the Australian way of life and we wanted to show that in a really immersive way.”
The VR footage, produced in collaboration with Clemenger BBDO, production agency Finch and VR specialist Vrse.works, can be viewed by using Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR apps. Ronson admitted relatively few consumers currently have VR technology but said the low-cost Google Cardboard will accelerate take-up over the next 12 months.
Ronson says the technology will be used at tradeshows and headsets will be distributed to travel agents to show their clients.
See an example of 360-degree footage below. Click the arrow icons in the upper left corner of the video screen to maneuver your view.