AR / VR : Which Destination Brings Its ‘A’ Game?

Ever since I had seen the movie Minority Report over a decade ago, I have been eager to see for myself how does the world incorporate augmented reality and virtual reality to sell us products or show us the next best destination for our vacation. Fast forward to 2014 and the world is ready to leverage VR through headsets and 360-degree videos. However, travel was being promoted through virtual reality as back in 2009 as you’d imagine without the common traveller even taking notice of it. Remember Street View by Google? Street View allowed users of Google Maps to see for themselves how a particular street of a destination looked in reality. You could visit some of the world’s best locations through this platform. 2009 was what I call a pivotal year in the history of today’s technology that we have become so accustomed to. Then in 2013 came Google glass and augmented reality was driven into our homes, streets, offices and wat not. It was in this year many of such Hollywood sci-fi technology was made integral to our routine lives. Eat your heart out Ethan Hunt and John Anderton !

Although these technologies are yet to attain its optimum stage while being tested by the everyday user, they are here and here to stay. Today the technologies cannot be used in isolation with each other but in synergy. Travel industry and especially the destination marketing industry has the most advantage to leverage mixed realities ( AR + VR ). Even though I am a travel and hospitality professional, the reasons that motivate or compel me to choose a particular destination to travel next are the same as anyone. I need to be inspired sensorily in order to take the plunge. Imagine being teleported virtually to the very spot under the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Machu Pichu or scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef. A moment of virtual presence in your dream destination can drive the decision to book or cancel plans. It takes very few minutes in the virtual reality world to either pique interest or fizzle out the expectation. I was curious to know which of the destinations in the world are bringing their A game to the battlefield of tourism marketing via mixed realities. This is what I discovered while combing through the information and getting their inputs.

Australia

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Kangaroo Island, Australia

I had no doubt in my mind that the Australian tourism board would be one of the leading teams bringing their A game. Habitually they either pioneer or are in the running to win the game in destination marketing and VR technology is no different. When I reached out to the team they shared VR films of 18 destinations that have been developed to create an immersive experience for international travelers to really ‘FEEL’ what Australia is like. According to them the ‘feel’ of these destinations in Australia plays a crucial role to take the next step towards booking a trip. From the comfort of the traveller’s home they are immersed to get a real experience of being in the place and better understand the beauty of the continent’s aquatic life. You cannot cheat a customer in a 360-degree video by artificially enhancing the destination. What you see is what it really is and this is the driving point in the booking game. However editing and stitching the film well to bring out the best of the recording is important and you need a highly experienced creative team. Tourism Australia partnered with Clemenger BBDO for creative direction and Finch for production while the digital development and distribution was done by DT. You can view the videos on YouTube 360 and are available on the Australia 360 app or website. I was amazed by the films and must admit it is compelling enough to induce wanderlust. Australian eastern coast is definitely on my top 3 must-visit destination list. The tourism board has distributed around 71000 Google Cardboards worldwide to promote their films. The films have garnered over 7 million views in total via YouTube and Facebook. Indeed the push that their website received to generate leads has been unprecedented. Overall the Australians are a happy bunch thanks to the integration of VR technology into their marketing and distribution strategy. The board has understood that this technology delivers precisely what they want to communicate and evokes emotions that drive bookings, something traditional media finds it challenging with the reducing attention span of the audience. They are keen to leverage it even more and I am sure better in the future to capture the Eastern hemisphere travellers and emerging economies.

Vienna, Austria

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Vienna Ringstrasse – Image Courtesy Vienna Tourism Board

My childhood was heavily influenced by Austria through classical music by Amadeus Wolfgang Mozart, Johann Strauss II  and hence it will always remain one of my most cherished destinations in the world. While I have a compelling reason to visit Vienna many music lovers would be thrilled to discover the music capital of the world once they experience a concert by Vienna Philharmonic in the comfort of their home. The Vienna Tourism Board recently dived into the world of virtual reality and produced one of their first 360 degree videos giving a rare peek into one of the world’s top music concerts. The team behind Vienna tourism marketing believe that VR films have the power to evoke the most intense emotions that can lead to inspiration and entertainment. These emotions are the driving force behind their promotional campaign for Vienna. The board partnered with Austrian Broadcasting Corporation and Deep Inc. to showcase the Summer Night Concert by Vienna Philharmonic with an awe-inspiring backdrop of Schönbrunn Palace. Deep Inc known for its high production of VR films and the quality of the concert video, was key for the tourism board’s campaign. The concert was held late May and the video was launched in July. They have an upcoming film showcasing epic locations in the city and is called ‘In the Rhythm of Vienna’. This new 360-degree video will be launched in autumn. The board has distributed the video on their youtube channel as well as website and have offered an exclusive view at events through VR gear. My experience of the film certainly gave me an up close view of the concert, the palace. It is definitely a good start for the Viennese team and I cannot wait for the next video. But more importantly, I cannot wait to be in Vienna and experience the concert first hand. This is the very idea of using VR technology to narrate a compelling story or immerse into a great experience leaving you wanting more. The team goes one to elaborate about The Summer Night Concert by the Vienna Philharmonic which is held annually under an open sky in front of the magnificent backdrop of Schönbrunn Palace. This year an audience of more than 100,000 people gathered in the Palace Park. The 360° video of the “Vienna Philharmonic Summer Night Concert Schönbrunn” does not only provide the opportunity to watch this concert or to listen to the music of the Vienna Philharmonic but to experience the whole atmosphere on-site at Schönbrunn and even to get insights from hidden perspectives. The first video has garnered 450000 views on their Youtube channel and around 400000 views on Facebook. Being only one of the 15000 music events held each year in Vienna there is more room to leverage this technology to unearth the many wonderful experiences in the Austrian capital. I predict the Viennese have a few surprises up their sleeves when it comes to AR/ VR technology. 

British Columbia, Canada

Whistler, British Columbia Image Courtesy - Whistler Tourism Board
Whistler, British Columbia Image Courtesy – Whistler Tourism Board

When it comes to destination marketing the pioneers have been British Columbia, Canada. In 2015 the tourism board was the first in North America to use virtual reality in their promotional campaign ‘Wild Within VR Experience’. The campaign included multiple locations in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest that were filmed in 360-degree to experience the wilderness of the region giving it a real on location feel. The Wild Within VR Experience was produced by Destination BC, with assistance from its Agency of Record, DARE Vancouver. The videos were developed for the Oculus Rift headset, with the option to transfer the video into other technologies. Blessed with natural beauty and abundance of lakes, rivers and cascading waterfalls a picture could sell the destination in my opinion. However, the 360 virtual experience is beyond any description and like me, you too will be bowled over. If you are into outdoor adventure Canada is the haven for you. The team at Hello BC have been distributing the videos at various events for travel. The videos helped launch their new website as the visuals in a VR film does all the talking. The VR campaign does spin into their $13 billion year revenue and is expected to take it to a new level. Certainly, they are not stopping here as it is only the beginning of driving traffic to their website bookings.

The CEO of the brand – Marsha Walden had this to share about the opportunities in marketing with VR technology, “We think virtual reality is a great fit for tourism marketing.  It lets our travel trade and media partners experience our destination in a new and unique way that has not been possible before.  And, as the headsets become more widely available to consumers, virtual reality gives them a ‘360’ experience – immersing them in the extraordinary travel opportunities that British Columbia offers, from raw wilderness to refined cities”. The film shot in first and third person offers the viewers to get interactive and explore beyond the video into other aspects of the location such as hiking, sea-lion colonies and more. There is a new series of ‘Winter Within British Columbia’ featuring a day of alpine skiing at Whistler Blackcomb and you could watch the 360-degree videos with your VR headset or on YouTube 360. You could even checkout the videos and other content on #ExploreBC.

Las Vegas, United States

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Las Vegas Strip Image Courtesy : Las Vegas Tourism

In the world where VR / AR technology are at your disposal, the adage ‘What happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas’ may need a bit of rephrasing. Now with the virtual reality app – Vegas VR, launched by Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority you can experience some of the glamorous places on the strip. From zip lining through the Fremont Street Experience aboard Slotzilla, to being serenaded on an authentic gondola ride through The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian the VR app gives you an insider view of only-in-Vegas experiences and much more. With this launch, the tourism authority of Las Vegas has made a statement in the race to leverage technology in destination marketing. All you need is a smartphone, the app of course and Google cardboard or any VR gear. Las Vegas has always been on the list of travellers who are keen on experiencing the ultimate party destination of the world or live it up with the high rollers. Virtual reality makes it possible to get on the very spot be it the bd Brasserie at The Venetian Las Vegas by Chef Daniel Boulud to NASCAR race car driving experience. The 12 videos filmed with 360-degree perspective will open the world of Vegas to first-time travellers as much as help the return visitors something new to discover. You can even take an aerial tour of the strip in he Maverick helicopter and get a stage perspective of the EDM Stage at Life is beautiful Festival. Vegas VR is free to download on iOS and Android platforms. All 360-degree videos are also available to view on Las Vegas’ YouTube channel. There are more apps where that came from, Where To Vegas has been developed to provide visitors the best and trending locations based on the footfalls that evening or day. So if a particular event or nightclub is trending the map will heat up on the location to let the users know what are the hotspots they shouldn’t miss out. There is fresh content added as time progresses and you could be certain that augmented reality integration to these apps isn’t a distant reality.

Thailand

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Image Courtesy: Tourism Authority of Thailand

While on the search for the destination marketing A teams, I had Thailand at the back of my mind and was eager to find out about their trump cards. I must admit that of all the marketing tools Thailand used augmented reality very well in their SEE Thru Thailand app by SIPA (Software Industry Promotion Agency). So it is an app that will have every information a traveller needs while visiting a destination, hotels, taxi, cars, flights, restaurants, attractions, maps, guides, the works. In 2016 that’s a no-brainer or a pre-requisite but what it adds through augmented reality is amazing. When you visit a landmark or a tourist attraction you could hold up the app screen through the camera mode and see historic trivia and archive of how that location looked back in the ancient times in comparison to what you are witnessing. For instance, while visiting Tha Pae Gate hold up the camera in the app and it shows you fascinating images of its old architecture, culture, people’s lifestyle and events of the past. It also shows the appearance of the gate is it was before and what it is today. The map could take you to Chiang Mai and show the lives of Linping to inspire your travel experience while visiting. The app also has movie locations to visit and gives an immersive perspective of your favourite movie shot in Thailand. There are five regions and the most travelled destinations enlisted on the app but fresher content and newer locations will be added progressively. The app can be availed in Thai and English language.

Palm Springs, CA

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City of Palm Springs, California

For your next trip to Coachella Valley, the city of Palm Springs, California has an app that will assist you in the moment with tips on restaurants deals, hotels, events and tourist attractions thanks to their collaboration with augmented reality search startup Blippar. The UK based tech startup allows the users to hold up the phone app through camera mode and search for anything they see in front of them. So while in Palm Springs you can use the Visit Palm Springs iOS app to visually search for locations of interests or things to do. There is an interactive map, geospaial search and  more in the app to help you plan your itinerary. “Augmented reality technology can act as the perfect conduit between the physical and digital worlds, providing tourists with instantaneous access to relevant information from navigational details, to deals, local accommodations or popular hot spots – right in the moment it is most needed,” said Omaid Hiwaizi, president of global marketing at Blippar, London. “Via these experiences, not only does AR have the potential to drive footfall and enhance aspects of commerce, but tourists and travelers can also explore and engage with the city in a smarter, more interactive way, enhancing their overall experience of the location in question.“Providing direct access to a digital version of a traditional tour guide also caters to today’s connected consumer and on-the-go mentality. The guide is now real-time, readily accessible, and can still be personalized to the user’s preferred itinerary.” The app is clean in its layout segmented into “Stay,” “Play” and “Shopping.”You may leverage these tools ahead of their upcoming vacations if you would like to receive guidance on choosing the best hotel or restaurant reservations. So let’s say you are in front of a restaurant and you really want to know if its worth the visit, just hold up the app and capture the exterior of the restaurant in the frame and the app would suggest the ratings, menu and speciality before you have entered in enabling you to make a decision to experience the food. Compass views and interactive maps help users locate their next activity and find directions in seconds. Indeed what’s more special about the app is that it functions perfectly offline and you don’t have to worry about incurring roaming charges. There is no second guessing that like VR, augmented reality is soon becoming the go-to technology for the travel industry since its availability in the palm of our hands. “Apps like VisitPalmSprings further demonstrate the versatility, capability, and real-world applicability of AR. They are also tangible examples of how AR experiences can deliver real value and function to consumers, or in this case tourists,” as per Mr. Hiwaizi of Blippar. The insights on the augmented reality diving straight into bookings are not quite clear yet but as the technology spreads as the other digital trends thus far these pieces will be stitched into the quilt of digital lifestyle.

When new year dawns, I have no doubts that these initiatives will be enhanced with refreshing innovation since it is the age we live in – Blitzing technology. However, these destinations have certainly paved the way forward for other cities and nations to take the digital marketing via AR and VR to unchartered territory.

 

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