by WEX Travel
Should travel agents be concerned about virtual reality (VR) becoming so realistic that customers think the experience is just as good as being there and don’t book a trip?
While VR may eliminate the need for certain business trips, the reality seems to be that VR makes people want the experience for real and can lead to increased bookings. Bloomberg reported that Thomas Cook experienced a 190 percent increase in revenue on excursions promoted through VR.
With the research firm Gartner predicting VR to become common by 2018, now is the time for the travel industry to investigate how to take advantage of this new technology.
Virtual Reality Travel Experiences in the Real World
Although VR is by no means commonplace yet, some travel companies are exploring using virtual reality marketing to boost sales. Business Insider reported that Expedia is using VR to target millennials after surveys found that they’re more risk averse and less likely to travel solo than other generations.
Some VR experiences require special equipment. Most common are special headsets, like the Oculus Rift used in a Marriott Hotels VR visit to Hawaii. The Marriott experience also required users to step into special booths to feel heat and breeze effects. The VR experience that Merrell, a footwear company, used to simulate wearing a new hiking shoe on a tough hike required walking on a special stage set.
Other VR requires nothing more than a smartphone and a cardboard adapter that can cost as little as $15. Matoke Tours created a virtual safari app that prospective customers can download to track mountain gorillas from home. Bloomberg’s story reports that Thomas Cook’s next VR effort will include distributing that adapter to its target market.
How Agents Can Use Virtual Reality Marketing to Boost Sales
The technology needed to create VR experiences isn’t expensive, either. Typically, these experiences require 360-degree footage; cameras capable of shooting that can cost less than $500. Soaring, sweeping shots are easily captured by camera-equipped drones, which are also fairly inexpensive. The most expensive factor in creating a VR experience may be the creative team that designs and executes the project.
The best applications of VR in travel marketing for agents may be to help customers make decisions and choices, as well as add enhancements to a trip they are already booking. The immersive experience highlights the impact their booking choices will make once they arrive.
Rather than generating their own content, travel agents may serve as distribution points for content developed by the hotels, cruises, and destinations. By exploring several cruise lines, customers could identify the right ship and voyage for them. Through exploring several hotels, a consumer could decide that they want to pay for the upgraded features—or that the location of the lower-rated hotel outweighs the luxury factor. VR from location could help customers select the perfect island destination or choose the excursions to complete their travel experience.
Ultimately, the technology that allows VR users to interact with their environment may allow them to make purchases from that environment as well. VR will mean “trying it out” and simply buying it with a virtual credit card. Through branding and relationships with destination marketing organizations and travel providers, travel agents will be compensated for purchases through the VR apps they distribute.
That’s still hypothetical, but the growth of VR and 360-degree video is real. Even customers who don’t have VR headsets can interact with the 360-degree videos to gain additional information supporting their buying decisions. For travel agents, incorporating these now experimental technologies will soon become a standard marketing technique.