Since 2016, when virtual reality (VR) made progress into mainstream media, people have been asking, “how can this benefit me?” Understanding the benefits of virtual environments is somewhat of a mystery. Most people can hardly grasp the concepts of VR, mixed reality (MR), and augmented reality (AR) let alone gain benefit from it, especially since quality virtual experiences were difficult to access.

It’s no wonder VR took so long to become relevant to the mainstream, there is an unofficial rule about new technologies: in order for a consumer to adopt a new high tech product, it must be 10 times better than what they currently use. Hence, VR is catching on as the equipment and production processes to make quality VR content make leaps and bounds. It makes sense that gaming is the biggest push for VR adoption, but the travel industry is finding a niche with virtual content as well.

360 imagery for travel marketing

Panoramic Image of St. Mary Falls in Montana. A 360° video of this image viewed using a headset captures the sound and feeling, immersing users the great outdoors.

Panoramic imagery and video offer captivating stories, and with the use of VR hardware these environments literally come to life. Traveling the globe is now a possibility for anyone, even those who cannot leave home, as VR immerses users in with sights and sounds of the real place.  

USA Today recently covered a story on Evan, a 45-year-old paraplegic, who experienced skiing for the first time since he was 15. VR offered Evan a way to feel the movement, see the snow, and hear the mountain air. Read More. Immersive VR is a new way to experience travel.

The travel industry increasingly sees VR production as a way to connect with clients, but this is not a new concept. Google was at the forefront of immersive photography when Street View began producing 360° imagery for businesses and recreation, but these images lack the immersion and interaction VR offers. 

Google Inside Business View showcases a fly fishing shop with this colorful panoramic image, available to view in 360°

How to use VR to showcase your destination

Destinations use VR to highlight unique selling points. In 2016, a travel agency sent clients cardboard headsets and a link to a downloadable app. The app was a 360° production of an African safari and prospective customers watched it with the simple headset. Watching the highlights, viewers were able to really understand what to expect from a safari trip. VR can truly engage users, adding value to any tourist destination. And VR tech has come a long way since 2016, with speedy advancements in camera technology and 360° video software, creating immersive applications is easier and more affordable than ever.

Hotels are also jumping on the 360° bandwagon. Best Western spent two years publishing over 17 million 360° photos of their hotel locations. Now, they are utilizing the images to generate direct bookings. Airlines are highlighting flight destinations using virtual reality stations at airports. Theme parks, too, find immersive 360° as a way to influence attendance. Thomas Cook Airlines captured an audience using VR by displaying New York as a destination, and they experienced a 180% increase in New York excursions, realizing a 40% ROI for their VR marketing tactics.

Marketing tourism with VR is tricky business, results must be measurable to recognize a return. Projects using VR must be carefully thought through, as the production process is time consuming and the equipment in spendy. 360° video production is more complex than regular video, and telling a story requires engaging the user where the aim is to emotionally captivate them. If you are considering VR as a marketing technique be sure it fits in with an overall marketing strategy. The investment for VR can really pay off if it fits into your big picture.

The adoption of VR increases with our changing technology. I first experienced VR in a cardboard headset, but now I thoroughly enjoy my Samsung Gear VR. The available content increases daily, as does the video quality. The History Channel app takes me on educational tours around the globe. Recently on the Oculus, I took a virtual tour around Italy, discovering history first-hand. The scenes are so real, I can all but smell the bakeries and feel the humidity.