Virtual Reality (VR) is a computer-generated simulation of an environment that allows a person to fully submerge into a different world. Ideally, in order to fully experience a VR setting, the five human senses must be fully stimulated so as to convince the human brain that it is actually participating in the event created by the computer. Virtual reality is currently mostly utilized in the gaming and entertainment industries. But is it applicable to the hotel industry? In a word: Yes.
There are a number of tourism- and hospitality-related firms that have already adopted this technology in some form. A prime example would be Marriott Hotels. In 2014, it partnered with Academy Award-winning creative studio Framestore to develop “the teleporter.” For a few months it traveled across the United States of America, enabling passersby to see 360-degree images of London and Hawaii as well as feel the wind, heat and mist of the destinations. Today, Marriott uses virtual reality in marketing its event spaces to its clients. Meeting planners can help prospective clients visualize potential meeting spaces before the client is required to make a final decision on whether to reserve the space or not. Marriott was also the first hospitality firm to introduce in-room virtual reality travel experiences. The first locations to implement these travel experiences were locations in Chile, Rwanda and Beijing.
Many companies in tourism and hospitality are using VR to upgrade their current website content as well as to encourage potential website visitors or tourists to engage with the service provider. A number of companies in the hospitality industry are now realizing that in order to be different and fully utilize the company website as a marketing tool, it is not sufficient to just have plain information presented. The aim is for potential consumers to visit specific properties and use various facilities and outlets provided by the travel and tourism industry. Some are mostly panoramic pictures that do not permit free navigation, whereas others allow the individual to decide where to go and what to see. This is evident from companies such as the hotel group Jumeirah and its ‘Inside 360o’ website.
With such a promising future, there is quite a bit of research and investment surrounding this technology. Tech advisor Digi-Capital estimates the worth of the VR industry will reach $30 billion by 2020 and Goldman Sachs suggests it will reach $110 billion by 2025.
A study recently conducted in Dubai (Ramadan and Nadkarni, 2017) discussed the fact that VR allows future guests to experience nearby locations, locals, and real-life situations in addition to viewing hotels. Virtual Reality can truly be used as a marketing tool to attract tourists to a hotel. Tourists are given the opportunity to research more about a destination or property, resulting in the guest being more informed. Some may even argue that the simulation of real travel situations experienced through VR willreduce the travel anxiety that some people may have. Finally, in this study, tourism and hospitality related firms expressed that they will look at the cost of implementation, the years of experience of content developers, content developers’ understanding of the needs of the hospitality industry, and the ability to access content using various devices before further investing in VR applications in the hospitality industry.
Ramadan, R. & Nadkarni, S. (2017) A Stakeholder Analysis of Virtual Reality Applications Tourism, Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management, Dubai