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Virtual reality promises a huge amount of potential for travel-related companies, and a technology that has been part of the collective imagination of human-beings for some time is now on the verge of actual realisation. Major VR projects such as Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus and Hololens are due to be completed in the next 12 months or so, and it could finally be time for virtual reality to go mainstream.

Applying VR to Tourism

One of the particularly interesting aspects of virtual reality that applies to the tourist industry is the potential for the technology to whisk people off to virtual destinations. Companies and brands are already experimenting with virtual reality solutions, with the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift proving to be particularly popular.

Oculus Rift will have lots of video game playing applications once it is released, but this is an extremely flexible piece of technology that will certainly be an excellent all-rounder. And one use of this technology that is currently under development involves cardboard headsets that are stationed within a special Teleporter station.

The development in question is being experimented on by the Marriott hotel chain. One of the world’s most important and profitable hotel chains, the Marriot is currently working on something that is referred to as its 4-D experience. Based around Oculus Rift, the new technology makes travellers feel as if they have literally left the building. Glamorous and exciting destinations soar around the wearer of the new technology absorbingly, with the potential for the Marriott to transport a participants to any destination in the world within a matter of seconds.

The experience has been compared to the cinema 360 attractions that emerged in the 1980s, but on a much more sophisticated and personal level. At present, the Marriott is focusing on directing these experiences themselves, with the teleport station not operable by the person enjoying the ride. But the functionality of Oculus Rift means that the experience could become interactive eventually.

VR Becoming Affordable

Virtual reality hardware has suddenly become affordable and portable, and the potential for travel brands to deliver immersive content via VR in the foreseeable future is now feasible. The Marriot chain is already talking about using the $199 (£130) Gear VR headsets for their next venture into travel marketing.

And the Marriot is not the only travel company experimenting with virtual reality software and hardware. Other famous travel brands such as Thomas Cook and Qantas Airways are also dabbling in virtual reality, and Destination BC in Canada is also creating its own promotional virtual reality videos. These brands are the first to launch with virtual reality, but the small number of VR advertising examples available at present is just the beginning of the niche.

Already Marco Ryan, chief digital officer for Thomas Cook Group, has spoken of his conviction that virtual reality will change the travel business profoundly. The potential to deliver an advertising experience that genuinely takes people close to the destination that they desire has massive potential for marketers. Travel agents have always attempted to give people something of the flavour of a particular holiday before booking through brochures, but this can obviously become far more sophisticated with a headset that can deliver immersive three-dimensional content.

Thomas Cook have already set up ten offices to test their embryonic virtual reality project. This involves strapping on a Gear VR headset and trying the tour that you are interested in before you commit to buying it. Among the destinations offered by Thomas Cook are a helicopter ride above the skyline of Manhattan, and the scenic view of a Santorini hotel balcony. And if one doubts the potential of this technology, it is worth noting that Thomas cook has seen VR-promoted New York excursion revenue increase 190 percent during 2015.

In a world in which convenience is the byword of technology, the next natural step for virtual reality technology is to be accessible in people's homes. And then once this has been achieved on a large scale it is possible that VR could eventually be delivered through mobile platforms as well.

Thomas Cook Extolls VR Virtues

Thomas Cook is certainly committed to the concept. The travel agent has already begun working with a virtual reality company by the name of Visualise, with the aim of producing a raft of excursion videos. These are filmed with a specifically designed rig of GoPro cameras, and are aimed at being the most sophisticated form of virtual reality marketing in the world thus far.

Just last week, the travel agent ventured to Egypt to film the pyramids, six different hotel properties, and live-action biking on sand dunes. Within just one week it will be possible to make these videos live on 3-D travel marketing. By August, it is proposed that Thomas Cook will be mass mailing 5,000 brochures, equipped with inexpensive cardboard headsets. Already these open-source units are compatible with smartphones, enabling custom-branded VR experiences via a downloadable application. Another example of this is the Google Cardboard headset that you can actually make yourself.

Virtual reality is thus already a viable marketing tool, and it is one that will inevitably become bigger in the near future. As the three virtual reality projects driven by video games companies settle into place, there is no doubt that VR will become more mainstream. Both destinations and travel-related companies can certainly benefit from embracing this increasingly affordable technology in the immediate future.

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