NEWS: Will COVID-19 be a Pivotal Point for the Tourism Industry?

2024. The year travel will return to pre-pandemic levels, according to Iata’s most recent estimates. Until now, tech-savvy destinations, hotels and tourism boards around the world have turned to VR as a temporary stop-gap measure, a thoughtful but casual marketing trick to maintain the interest of potential visitors. However. Confronted with the new realism of shrinking tourism, experts now believe that Covid-19 will be a pivotal moment for VR for the long-term. Redefining VR as an integral part of tourism marketing. 

So, what advantages does VR offer to the travel and tourism industry?

Getting customers excited, providing inspiration for real-world travel

A recent article by the BBC highlights significant investments made in VR marketing by a group of countries to support the gradual recovery of their tourism industries. Awe-inspiring for the user, they showcase morning yoga by the beach in the Maldives. They involve Pulitzer Prize-winning poets and Oscar-nominated cinematographers to experience Ireland’s famed Giant’s Causeway and the setting for HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Germany’s own series of immersive projects also elegantly capture its offer as a travel destination. Its interactive experiences, designed for viewing through Oculus Rift headsets and for the Microsoft Hololens, include 360-degree videos. Taking travellers on trips across the country, to its Baltic and North Sea coasts; and views of some of their most famous, historic palaces and castles.

Interestingly, these VR and AR (augmented reality) applications were explicitly designed not to replace the experience of real-world travel. Instead they’re considered “essential elements” (Petra Hedorfer, Chief Executive, German National Tourist Board) to maintain interest of travellers, getting them excited and to provide inspiration for travel in the real world. 

Offering innovative ways to stand out 

Destinations and attractions need to distinguish themselves in today’s competitive travel and tourism marketplace. Take Visit Florida’s VR brand experience created by the award-winning Circus team. It features a series of customisable 180-degree videos, coupled with Dolby 5.1 audio, projected inside an immersive dome for VR group experiences. 

Deployed in shopping malls across the UK, guests crowd around to transport themselves to their chosen Florida attraction – from the excitement of Daytona and Disney World, to serene aerial footage of kayaking in Martin County, to the sun-soaked beaches of the Emerald Coast. Followed up by an email marketing campaign to convert excitement to bookings, Visit Florida’s daily visitors soared to over 400 a day.

Likewise, the Science Museum and Covent Garden are some of London’s most popular and iconic locations. Sophisticated tech along with high quality, high-resolution 360 imagery cleverly brings them to life at the touch of a button. ‘Hero’ spaces are matched by VR technique: the Museum’s “Illuminate” level utilises a day-to-night toggle, beautifully illustrating the room at various times of the day.

Increasing access to institutions that have a mandate to offer public access and education

Here the VR offer works at several levels. UK Parliament has a role to educate the public about the workings of government. Recognising that not everyone is able-bodied enough, nor local enough, to visit the wondrous halls of the Palace of Westminster, Circus created the first ever 360 walkthrough.

Engaging, modern, accessible” (UK Parliament), it has opened the institution up to a wider audience than ever before. Visitors are in control of their pathway. They can step into the shoes of the Prime Minister, Speaker, Opposition Leader. Taking guests on an all-embracing tour of its famous – and not so famous – rooms. Visitors also get to see areas normally off-limits to the public. From the despatch boxes to the voting lobbies, they can learn about the Key Features that they’re seeing at their own pace. The VR experience has made learning fun; tailored to the interests of the visitor.

What’s more, with accessibility in mind, the experience is also designed with high contrast text and large fonts. Similar to the Science Museum’s experience – made keyboard-controllable to meet the museum’s exceptional accessibility standards.

In the same vein, the 360 virtual tour of the Royal Opera House showcases some of the venue’s most prestigious performance spaces. Allowing, for the first time, this publicly-funded institution to open its doors far and wide. To invite anyone to enter, to absorb its cultural heritage, to sit in its cafes, experience night time on its famous Terrace, and choose their own music in the Linbury Theatre.

Increasing traveller confidence post-COVID

Another important contribution, cited by the BBC article, foreseen for VR will be in “rebuilding consumer confidence” and “helping to familiarise travellers with a new environment” as restrictions are lifted (Miguel Flecha, Accenture travel and hospitality expert). For those hesitant to book flights, VR can be a cost-effective and powerful tool to incentivise travel; to help clients feel more comfortable and willing to travel. This may be through showing health and safety measures, the boarding process on a cruise or flight; the check-in system at a hotel in the new era. 

In fact, this return on investment is already being proven. Leading to an increasing number of venues and hotels providing reassurance to their customers with Covid-19 safety videos. Organisations are turning to VR tools as the most engaging and persuasive way to reassure their customers that they are in safe hands; truly ready for their return. 

The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn is one such example. The end result is convincing. By demonstrating the measures now in place; exemplifying how they are compliant and secure, the video calms nerves and encourages their clients back through their doors. Standing them ahead of others from a level playing field. 

At the recent, first-ever virtual ‘Meetings Show’ – a high profile platform for the UK events and meetings industry – those venues that had up-to-date, engaging virtual services relating to Covid-19 stood out from the crowd. They were persuasive. They engaged with the immediate needs of the client.

To finish

The BBC article debates whether Virtual Tourism is about to take off. Directly attributing an increase in VR investment to numbers of visitors will always be difficult. As it is for any marketing medium. The experts cited appear unanimous though that the potential conversion value on its utilisation is significant.

It points to the need for high-tech giants to invest in the tech to provide global confidence in the movement. The launch of Amazon Explore in the US in September is one potentially significant milestone on the journey. This platform enables one-on-one virtual experiences with local residents and tour guides in countries around the world, from artisan shopping in Costa Rica to tours of Kyoto neighbourhoods in Japan. What’s more, the current interest being shown by Apple and Samsung in VR could also prove to be a “great accelerator“.

Ultimately however, the evidence seems strong that Virtual Tourism has already taken off. For a great number of tourism-related businesses out there, it is currently proving itself essential to deliver their business needs. Virtual Tourism is not only shown to significantly widen target audiences, but in today’s world it is necessary. Necessary to inspire wonder, inspire confidence and to stand out in a crowded and fragile marketplace. 

If you’re interested in harnessing the power of VR tools for your business, contact our award-winning team today.

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