While the world was in lockdown from 2020-2021, the hospitality industry began to reevaluate its place in travelers’ lives. The drop in travel gave travel organizations the ability to refocus their priorities and think about how they could still connect with people even if they weren’t able to physically serve them. For this reason, hospitality technology development accelerated during the pandemic, especially in the areas of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).
What are VR and AR?
Virtual reality (VR) “is the term used to describe a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment which can be explored and interacted with by a person.” It incorporates as many senses (vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch) as possible to make the experience realistic for the user. VR often incorporates hardware and accessories, such as a headset and gloves, to boost the immersion level of the experience.
While VR creates an artificial environment, augmented reality (AR) integrates “digital information with the user's environment in real time … AR users experience a real-world environment with generated perceptual information overlaid on top of it.” Using a device like a smartphone or specialized glasses, additional information is added to supplement the user’s current real-world reality.
Often associated with video games, VR and AR are making their way into many peoples’ everyday lives. Hotels and other hospitality organizations have been using VR and AR in a limited way for years. Virtual tours on a website or social media are commonly used as a sales tool for destinations, hotels, convention centers, etc. For example, Best Western partnered with Disney to allow guests to interact virtually with Disney characters, and beacon technology can be used for virtual keys and location-based marketing.
Other Uses for VR and AR in Hospitality
Other aspects of the industry, such as an increased focus on making travel more accessible to all, can also benefit from the use of new technologies. VR can give individuals who are unable to travel to specific destinations the ability to experience it in a realistic, virtual way. For example, those who may not be able to scuba dive physically can still explore coral reefs. Meanwhile, the use of AR can enhance a hospitality experience. AR glasses could display a text-rendered translation of what a guest or employee is saying in another language, or offer closed captioning for those with hearing disabilities.
VR can also be used for educational purposes. Instead of reading a book or watching a documentary about an important and interesting destination, students can visit virtually and immerse themselves in the experience while sitting in their classroom or at home. Using AR, individuals visiting a museum could hold their phone up to a piece of artwork and receive additional interactive or immersive information about the artist or subject. Self-guided tours are slowly moving from reusable shared headsets to phones with geolocation and interactive information so travelers can customize their experience and enhance it with AR.
Even with the technological advancements made in hospitality since the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry still has a long way to grow. The metaverse is the next stage, moving into “the realm of computer-generated, networked extended reality, or XR, an acronym that embraces all aspects of augmented reality, mixed reality and virtual reality (AR, MR and VR).” Although it may seem like science fiction, consumers are beginning to embrace enhanced technology like AR and VR in their everyday lives, and the hospitality industry must continue innovating to stay relevant.