Nearly 70 years ago, long before the rise of personal computers and the Internet, the great science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury predicted the emergence of virtual-reality travel. In his short story “The Veldt” (originally published as “The World the Children Made”), parents George and Lydia purchase an automated house called “The Happylife Home,” filled with machines that assist them in completing everyday tasks.
Their children, Peter and Wendy, are particularly fascinated with the home’s “nursery,” a virtual-reality room capable of reproducing any destination they can imagine. Although the children could travel anywhere from a distant planet to the deepest ocean to the ruins of ancient Egypt, they soon begin to spend all of their time in an Africa veldt, complete with hyper-realistic zebras grazing in tall grasses and lions feasting on the decaying carcass of some unknown prey.
So entranced do Peter and Wendy become with this virtual veldt that they refuse to leave, even when their parents demand it. Growing increasingly worried by their children’s obsession, George and Lydia decide to sell their automated house and move to a simple country cottage. When their children beg for one last chance for their family to visit the virtual veldt, the disobedient Peter and Wendy lock their parents in the nursery, where George and Lydia may soon become the lions’ next meal.
Try Before You Buy
Current virtual-reality (VR) technologies are not yet quite that powerful, but they nevertheless can deliver a stunningly realistic sense of presence for travel destinations, particularly for accommodations ranging from five-star hotels to intimate B&Bs.
And, as an additional advantage, unlike Bradbury’s George and Lydia, nobody gets eaten by lions.
According to the website TravelTripper.com, photorealistic virtual tours “are all the rage these days.” With virtual reality, the site says, “travelers are able to explore a hotel or destination” long before they arrive, “giving them a unique chance” to try before they buy.
Few capabilities could be more important to the travel industry today—and especially to the hotel and accommodations sector. A recent Google study found that travel consumers typically make more than 350 “digital touchpoints” before booking. This kind of fragmentation, one travel authority asserts, likely “explains why travel marketers have some of the lowest conversion rates in ecommerce.”
And no wonder. The research firm STR Global estimates that there are some 187,000 hotels offering 17.5 million guest rooms—and probably an equal number of non-hotel room accommodations—around the globe. With this much competition, lodging purveyors need every pixel of competitive advantage they can find.
And that, it appears, is
VR-based accommodations-marketing can provide.
Fully Immersive, Fully Interactive Virtual Tours
Vacasa, a vacation-rentals management company headquartered in Portland, Oregon, is one of the companies that has been quickest to take advantage of VR’s lodging-focused capabilities. Vacasa has relied on the services of Sunnyvale-based VR specialist Matterport—which uniquely produces high-resolution, fully immersive, fully interactive virtual tours—to provide such tours of nearly all of its 4,600 U.S. homes. Rather than beta-testing virtual tours on a small number of properties, Vacasa was so impressed with Matterport’s capabilities that it rolled out the technology all at once.
Virtual tours have paid “huge dividends for guests, owners, and our own team,” says Debi Staigerwald, VP of Marketing at Vacasa. “With VR, we can offer our guests a clear, detailed look at each of our homes during the booking process, giving them a realistic idea of the size, condition, and amenities of our properties. While photos can sometimes be misleading, VR enables guests to assess general features, like the size of the living room or the prep space in the kitchen, as well as details, like whether the shower has grab bars or the steepness of a staircase.”
Our goal, she emphasizes, is “happy guests, so we want to make sure they get precisely what they expect.”
Taking a slightly different approach, hotel group Palladium uses VR as a selling tool aimed at the chain’s own salespeople, allowing them to understand the specific features of individual room types, as well as of the experience of using pools, restaurants, and other amenities at each of the hotel group’s properties. Marriott Hotels has deployed VR tours for yet another purpose, employing the technology to convey how the hotel’s various meeting rooms might be used for different types of events.
Powerful Advantages for Hospitality
Inc. magazine recently summarized the powerful advantages of using virtual reality in for hospitality promotion. Being able to virtually sample “almost any location in the world will be a game changer for the tourism industry,” the magazine said, and will take the “user experience to the next level… Hotels will be able to provide visitors with realistic expectations of what it's like to stay at their establishment and the services they offer—while also making it incredibly easy to upsell premium services for those [who] want to spoil themselves.”
Other reviewers have sought to quantify these benefits, and they indeed can be immense:
- Hotel chains such as Best Western and Radisson have found VR to be a “valuable tool” for increasing bookings and revenues . Radisson, for instance, discovered that its hotels with a virtual tour achieved a 135% increase in online revenue as compared with its otherwise similar hotels without a VR tour.
- A study of 10,000 travelers by travel-solutions provider Sabre Hospitality Solutions reported that 31% of travelers would book immediately after experiencing a VR tour , while 51% agreed that VR was the most appealing technological concept to aid them in their travel-booking process.
- Pew Internet Life found that lodging listings with a virtual tour received up to 40% more views than those listings lacking such media.
- Overall, many providers have experienced short-term returns on investment of more than 40% and an uplift in bookings of as high as 190%.