Can Virtual Reality Save Hotels from Airbnb?

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Can Virtual Reality Save Hotels from Airbnb?

02/18/2016
Nothing has impacted the hospitality industry quite like the Internet. Destination researching, online booking, and social media marketing have changed the way hotels do business. But one of the latest Internet-induced changes has hurt traditional hotels: peer-to-peer hospitality sites like Airbnb.

Fortunately, a new technology is set to explode next year that’s predicted to disrupt industries across the board. Here the CEO of YouVisit offers insights into how and why virtual reality could be the technology the hospitality industry needs to regain the edge in attracting guests.

Why peer-to-peer sites are a threat
Hospitality industry insiders have watched with concern as the peer-to-peer trend has taken hold. It’s clear that sites like Airbnb are steering traditional hotel guests toward other lodging options, and the growth of such companies seems unstoppable.

According to the Wall Street Journal, from February 2014 to May 2015, property listings on Airbnb increased from 600,000 listings to 1.4 million listings.  Airbnb claims that it will earn $850 million in revenue this year, more than three times the revenue the company reported in 2013.

While studies vary on the exact impact of Airbnb on hotel bookings and profits, it’s safe to assume that a fair portion of Airbnb renters would have spent their dollars on a hotel room if Airbnb had not offered an alternative.

How hotels can combat peer-to-peer sites
When travelers book through Airbnb, industry experts believe they are seeking a less traditional travel experience. With the change to the industry, hotel customers have come to expect “a level of service that is different, more sophisticated, detailed and skillful,”Christopher Norton, executive vice president of Four Seasons, told  Wired.

That means hotels need to offer a different experience to keep customers from choosing peer-to-peer alternatives for their travel accommodations. With virtual reality set to take over the tech world next year, there’s an opportunity for hoteliers to use the medium to provide that experience.

Peer-to-peer sites generally sell properties with photographs taken by the property owners, though a few property owners qualify for professionally taken photographs. With that in mind, hotels have a huge opportunity to market their properties and amenities with virtual reality tours. A well-produced virtual reality tour can take a potential guest through a hotel property, highlighting suites, spas, pools, fitness centers, views, and other hotel attractions. Those experiences allow guests to imagine themselves in the hotel in a way that static photos cannot. Some hotels already use virtual reality to attract guests.

Setting a hotel apart with virtual reality
The opportunity to set hotels apart with virtual reality doesn’t end with virtual reality tours. Hotels can create on-site virtual reality experiences that engage guests and add value to their travel experience.

Imagine a “virtual concierge” station within a hotel lobby. Guests could put on virtual reality headsets and watch tours with information on local landmarks, restaurants, and entertainment. Hotels also could create a virtual concierge app that customers could use via their own virtual reality headsets or with smartphones and an inexpensive Google Cardboard virtual reality headset. This would allow guests to explore the hotel and nearby destinations before their trips.

One hotel group already has set itself apart as a leader in virtual reality experiences. Last year, as part of its “Travel Brilliantly” campaign, Marriott staged an eight-city tour of its “Transporter” experience. Using an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, Transporter users were provided with virtual reality experiences of a beach in Hawaii and a London skyscraper. The hotel chain announced this fall that hotel guests in New York and London would be able to have virtual reality headsets, preloaded with three virtual reality travel experiences, delivered to their rooms.

While peer-to-peer travel sites like Airbnb are here to stay, traditional hotels don’t have to give up their market share. With virtual reality, hotels have an opportunity to create and market a unique and enriching travel experience with virtual reality that peer-to-peer sites can’t compete with.