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Virtual tourism is a concept which has been discussed for sometime, but now the first practical examples are emerging. One such example has recently been announced by Destination BC; the tourist board for the Canadian province of British Columbia.

Virtual Reality Tourism

The tourism department of British Columbia is offering tourists a preview of what the region has to offer with a unique 360-degree video. In order to recreate this Canadian tourist destination, Destination BC is utilising Oculus Rift virtual reality technology.

Oculus rift is still very much under development as a commercial platform, and is eventually intended to offer video games-related functionality. However, it also has many other possible applications, and is considered a platform with massive potential. This was profoundly underlined when in March 25, 2014, Facebook announced that it had agreed to buy Oculus VR for $400 million in cash, $1.6 billion in Facebook stock, and an additional $300 million subject to Oculus VR meeting certain financial targets.

Offering tourists virtual reality trips is expected to become considerably more common in the foreseeable future. For travel-related companies and destinations the advantages are obvious. Virtual reality tourism effectively enables companies to offer a much more absorbing, realistic and accurate portrayal of the destination than can be conveyed through brochures or even Internet content. It can be a great way to potentially sell a destination to customers who would otherwise be sceptical, or who may simply not understand the benefits of a particular region.

Virtually Experiencing the Pacific

This new offering by Destination BC enables viewers of the technology to virtually jump into the picturesque Nimmo Bay, experiencing barking sea lions and the unspoiled azures of the Pacific Ocean. Destination BC proudly boasts that they are the first destination marketing organisation in North America to offer a virtual reality tour, and the organisation believes that experiences such as these can be a potentially huge pull factor for tourists.

The organisation is utilising virtual tours as part of an overall marketing palette at national and international tourism trade shows. According to the hierarchy of Destination BC, it is considered only a matter of time until virtual reality tours become a mainstream method of promoting tourism, akin to traditional marketing brochures.

Another interesting aspect of this particular development is the sophistication of the technology that exists already. Although this is very much an embryonic concept, it is still possible for Destination BC to offer a multitude of different tours. These virtual tours are an innovative and exciting way to showcase the destination as an attractive place to visit, and the breadth of content involved ensures that every base in the region is covered.

Thus, tours on this Oculus Rift VR system are based in the Great Bear Rainforest, Clayoquot Sound, with a waterfall cascading in the distance. Virtual travellers can also traverse a mountainside trail, hikers and boat riders end their adventures at Nimmo Bay, sitting on the wharf in quiet tranquility as the ocean shimmers in the moonlight.

GoPro Capture

Footage for such virtual reality systems is surprisingly easy to capture. For this Canadian offering, all video footage was captured via a series of seven HD GoPro cameras fixed to a spherical rig that was custom made using a 3-D printer. Once constructed, it was possible for the rig be mounted on either a hexacopter drone, or backpack. Thus, it is quite clear that Destination BC has embraced numerous aspects of contemporary technology in providing this virtual reality tour.

Numerous electronics companies are preparing to release virtual reality headsets in 2015, although considering the complexity of the technology involved it wouldn't be surprising to see some delayed until next year. However, we should at least see some mainstream consumer electronics virtual reality technology in the next 12 months, and it is certain that by the end of the decade that VR will be playing a significant role in such consumer niechs as videogames. Aside from Oculus Rift, major investment from Samsung and Sony indicates that this will be a growth industry in the extremely near future.

The Digital Tourism Think Tank has already reported on the potential of virtual reality in tourism marketing, and on the development of the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus systems. As destinations begin to take their first steps in utilising this form of digital marketing, it becomes increasingly clear that virtual reality will play a major role in the industry going forward.

Although traditional forms of communicating what is involved in a holiday or trip will probably remain intact for many years - just as printed newspapers have yet to see their demise - it is likely that virtual reality will play a major role as an alternative to holiday brochures in the next few years. This is a vibrant technology which can truly offer something that was previously impossible.

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