Virtual reality is moving from a dream to an actual reality in the travel industry, as a variety of agents, hotel chains and airlines experiment with new immersive experiences to inspire and persuade potential travelers. But even as consumers and marketers get excited, many are asking if VR is just the latest form of marketing hype or a legitimate business tool. What best practices are emerging to guide successful VR campaigns, and how are travel marketers approaching the technology as interest grows?
Many travel industry executives are excited about the potential of such devices to deliver immersive experiences that help them better sell travel products to potential customers, and a range of travel brands like Tourism Australia, Marriott and Thomas Cook have already tried out VR marketing programs. Still, the size of the consumer market for VR remains small for now, complicating marketing decisions. Industry sources predict there will be around two million devices in consumers’ hands by the end of the year, and total sales from VR hardware and software in the US are estimated to reach $1 billion in 2016.
In addition to relatively small demand for VR devices and software, many consumers are ambiguous about their interest in VR experiences. While there’s no doubt that VR travel experiences evoke strong excitement, many consumers are confused about what VR means and emphasize that they will need to try it out in person, in order to provide a better opinion on whether they want to purchase or use such devices. Another added complication is the wide range of devices and VR software formats, which can complicate production and distribution decisions for marketers.
Despite these obstacles, plenty of travel brands are already experimenting with VR travel experiences, helping to build a list of best practices and case studies that can help guide other marketers. Those familiar with producing VR experiences emphasize the importance of finding compelling experiences to capture using VR technology. 360-video, which some detractors point out is not “true” VR, has gained the widest audience, with support now available on both YouTube and Facebook. Brands like Marriott and Thomas Cook offer two great examples of travel brands that have built successful VR experiences.
Skift’s “Decoding Use Cases for Virtual Reality in Travel” report digs into each of these topics, attempting to size the potential market for VR devices and experiences, gauging consumer perceptions of VR experiences, reviewing the most popular devices and formats in use today and investigating the best examples of how travel brands are putting VR to use for their own initiatives.