Virtual and alternate realities have been the topic of fiction for many decades. The work of the legendary science fiction writer Philip K. Dick was particularly noteworthy for exploring this topic, and Dick’s work remains hugely influential today. For some time, tech fans have been anticipating the time when virtual reality ceases to be a topic of fiction and instead becomes a viable consumer experience. And that time may finally be not too far away.
Facebook sees virtual reality potential
With its $2 billion buyout of Oculus VR, Facebook indicated its belief in a virtual reality future that is just around the corner. The company is in the process of developing Oculus Rift; a virtual reality headset which is presumed to be particularly aimed at the video gaming community. Although the involvement of Facebook suggests that Oculus Rift will also Half social media-driven functionality as well.
Oculus Rift is not the only virtual reality headsets currently being developed. Sony's Project Morpheus is another virtual reality headset, which is eventually intended to offer absorbing gameplay experiences in collaboration with its PlayStation 4 console.
While both of these projects are very much at the prototype stage, and possibly not even as advanced as that, those who have had the opportunity to experience a hands-on play have without exception reported them to be extremely impressive. It is such an experience that convinced Facebook supremo Mark Zuckerberg to purchase Oculus HR in the first place.
Virtual Reality opportunities for travel industry
It is easy to see how transmitting people to an all encompassing three-dimensional world could greatly enhance a video game experience. But this embryonic technology also offers some potentially fantastic opportunities for the travel industry, and the ability for companies involved in the industry to deliver some unique and previously unimaginable content to customers.
The first benefit of virtual or augmented reality technology to the travel industry would be one quite simply of image. This will become much sought after technology when it is perfected and made affordable, and with 3D movie technology also developing and becoming more prevalent, embracing virtual reality projects will have the benefit of making travel companies appear cutting edge.
Of course, augmented technology is already available through project such as Google Glass. This wearable tech enables the physical world to be combined seamlessly with virtual information. Research led by Professor Dimitrios Buhalis and Bournemouth University and our very own Zornitza Yovcheva, explored this state-of-the-art technology to decipher where management and marketing departments in the tourism and hospitality industries could benefit. Such areas as enhanced booking experiences, museum interactivity and providing responsive experiences were all considered to be valid areas for the travel industry to investigate.
However, true virtual reality projects such as Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus take the capabilities of Google Glass one step further. To give an insight into the sort of experiences that virtual reality projects could give the travel industry and its consumers, one of the flight meta search leaders Skyscanner recently looked at the technology in an influential report. Skyscanner’s ‘Future of Travel 2024’ predicted that in the future virtual reality headsets will offer travel companies the opportunity to provide virtual ‘try-before-you-buy’ holidays.
You don't have to really understand the technology, or be particularly au fait with its potential, to see that such a possibility would be an extremely attractive one to both travel companies and holidaymakers alike. The opportunity to experience a resort before actually travelling there would obviously enable travellers to make a much more informed choice about where they choose to go on holiday.
Virtual holidays on the horizon
But it's not merely ‘virtual previews’ of holiday destinations that could be offered by virtual reality. The technology could also offer the potential to actually experience virtual holidays. When completed, both Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus could offer the public the opportunity to visit destinations that would otherwise be inaccessible to them, for example, due to distance or price.
One such possibility that was discussed by the British television programme ‘The Gadget Show’ was the potential ability of Oculus Rift to virtually shoot people into space. Researchers from the University of Surrey have launched a Kickstarter campaign which if successful will enable people eventually to experience virtual space travel for a price less than that of the average video game.
There is no question that virtual reality has absolutely transformative potential. And the travel industry could benefit from this exciting technology greatly, providing experiences that benefit both vendor and consumer alike.
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