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Virtual reality (VR) was first demonstrated in a practical idense in the 1960s, and the notion of alternate realities which are experienced through technology was a science-fiction staple long before it was witnessed in the real world. For many years it has been predicted that we would experience VR operating in everyday life, and delivering immersive experiences which both absorb and entertain the general public on a regular basis.

Virtual Reality Check

While this has taken much longer to come to fruition than many predicted, it now appears that we are on the cusp of true mainstream virtual reality technology. Facebook has conducted a billion dollar acquisition of Oculus Rift, while Sony is currently working on the Project Morpheus system for the PlayStation 4 video games console. Microsoft has also recently announced a VR project, and we are expected to see the fruits of these efforts sometime in the next year or so.

One already commonly used example of virtual reality-type technology is the Google StreetView software. Such travel applications can be utilised in order to showcase travel-related destinations such as hotels. Additionally, the StreetView experience can be enhanced by the augmented reality technology Google Glass. Although neither of these Google products represent true virtual reality, they nonetheless have similar applications. Google StreetView was recently utilised in order to epically capture of all of Florida’s 825 miles of beaches.

Early Adopters

Another true example of virtual reality technology being utilised in a travel environment relates to Oculus Rift itself. The destination British Columbia has recently released an Oculus Rift virtual reality experience entitled “The Wild Within”. At present this is only accessible for travel media and trade professionals in a few major US conurbations, but in the future the intention is to make it available for public access.

Users can wear the Oculus Rift headset and accompanying headphones in order to immerse themselves in an incredible 360-degree experience. “The Wild Within” offers two separate virtual adventures, one of which centres around a boat ride while another is based on a treacherous mountain hike.

Microsoft’s VR project is not available yet, but the corporation has already stated that it intends to release something during 2015. Whether this will be a truly publicly accessible device, or more of a prototype to show off to the media, remains to be seen. But promotional videos for its HoloLens device show the travel-related potential of this technology, with one particularly compelling sequence depicting how a user might enjoy flyovers of popular tourist attractions such as the Golden Gate Bridge.

Finally, Australia’s Qantas will be making a unique offer to first-class passengers from March of this year. Via a partnership with Samsung, the successful airline will offer virtual reality technology in its Sydney and Melbourne International First Lounges and first-class cabins. This is being trialled on a three month basis initially, and will enable first-class customers to access a three-dimensional, 360-degree style interactive viewing experience.

Samsung Gear VR headsets will be utilised in order to deliver this entertainment content, and naturally virtual reality tools will also play a major part in showcasing what Qantas believes to be some of its most attractive destinations. The company is currently collaborating with production company Jaunt in order to produce the live action content which will form part of this package, and the airline has already revealed that a 3D tour of Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia will feature prominently in the initial content.

These early adopters indicate ways in which travel-related companies and destinations can utilise virtual reality in the very near future. And there is definitely potential for the tourism industry to utilise VR as a mainstream marketing tool at some point.

VR Remains Niche

However, the reality of the situation is that at this point in time this remains a very much a niche technology. While it seems valid to be cautiously optimistic about the prospects of virtual reality, at this point in time there is no guarantee that it will reach a commercial audience in the foreseeable future.

Even the relatively low-key and unambitious Google Glass has completely failed to reach a mainstream audience, and indeed Google has recently shelved the project for the time being. While Google says that it still very much believes in Glass as a concept, clearly there isn't an acceptable or viable audience for the product at this point in time.

This may very well change if one of the three major virtual reality devices currently under development gains significant traction. There is no doubt that many video gamers are looking forward to the prospect of playing games in virtual reality, and this may indeed be the shot in the arm that the technology needs to go viral. But for the time being, it is notable that even the early adopters are being extremely cautious with virtual reality, and dipping their toes very gingerly into the VR water.

Virtual reality is not likely to become a mainstream source of digital marketing in the near future, even for the most technologically advanced regions on the planet. But it certainly remains a niche which is well worth monitoring, as the potential to deliver absorbing content through virtual reality certainly exists.

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