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

While writing on destinations who have brought their ‘A game’ to mixed realities marketing, I stumbled upon some airlines who have taken flight in the uncharted skies quite figuratively. Airlines like tourism boards have one objective in driving their marketing strategy –  influencing the consumers to travel. While luxury travellers’ may not bat an eyelid on the pricing they are fastidious when it comes to value of the experience. As it is, driving a set of the world’s population to get on a 16 hour flight is a feat, add the blitzing pace of communication through social media and you have demanding, well-heeled consumers. Airlines by that order are sailing in the same boat with tourism organisations.

With the burning crisis of economy, immigration and war torn regions, the world has become a cynical haven. Influencing the traveller of today is the most crucial aspect of marketing in the travel and hospitality industry. Both Virtual and Augmented reality however offer what we all crave the most – escapism. Escapism is one of the key factors why people travel in the first place. Some may argue that curiosity and thirst for a new experience are the driving forces but there is a hint of escapism in it too. We all want to get off the routine for a week if not two not only to rejuvenate but to brag as well. VR and AR technologies help us go somewhere or experience something we have never before while sitting on our couch or in an aircraft. The three airlines I am going to discuss in this post have especially taken VR technology to tempt their travellers with one of a kind experiences underwater or just in the aircraft with a Hollywood star. So let’s unravel their A game.

Qantas

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Qantas First Class Lounge. Image Courtesy: Qantas

Qantas was the first airline to bring the immersive experience of VR to its in-flight entertainment. In collaboration with Samsung Gear VR headsets, Qantas showcased their destinations, products and in-flight movies to the passengers at the First Class Lounges in Sydney, Melbourne and First Class cabin on select Airbus 380 flights between Australia and LA. This was the first experiment with the tech giant to view films in an interactive 360-degree format that ran for about 3 months to gauge passengers’ feedback on the in-flight entertainment and virtual tour of Qantas lounges or services. The Gear VR headsets were provided to the passengers traveling on the selected route. Later the Australian airline brand took a step further and partnered with destinations in Australia like Northern Territory, Hamilton Islands to offer their passengers VR experience of traveling to Kakadu National Park and Great Barrier Reef. Imagine being in a First Class lounge and are whisked away thousands of feet under the ocean to see a natural wonder of the world.

Tourism Northern Territory is the first tourism board to be showcased on Samsung Gear VR with a boat journey in Kakadu National Park, the location of iconic Australian landmark Ayers Rock. Pioneers in 360-degree VR content – Rapid VR created a one of a kind experience for Qantas that offers its passengers a deep dive into the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet. How about that?! In  partnership with Qantas, Hamilton Island, and Samsung, Rapid VR produced the 360-degree film, showcasing not just the Great Barrier Reef but the picturesque Hamilton Island. The film is available at select Qantas international lounges and flights, where it can be viewed through the Samsung Gear VR headset. It is also available for online streaming via YouTube 360, as an app on the Gear VR’s Oculus Store, Android and iOS devices. Olivia Wirth, Qantas Group executive for brand, marketing and corporate affairs shares, “Our Virtual Reality headsets have already proven a hit with our customers in our lounges and on some of our international flights. It’s a fantastic way for us to give our customers a unique experience of the Great Barrier Reef and Hamilton Island, which we expect will translate into more people choosing to visit the Whitsundays for the next holiday destination.” Glenn Bourke, chief executive officer, Hamilton Island adds, “We have seen a new level of interest in the Great Barrier Reef from our guests in the past 12 months, and I’m sure the Great Barrier Reef virtual vision we’ve created with Qantas will inspire many more to visit given the remarkable visual effects.”

Etihad 

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Image Courtesy: Etihad

Etihad may be one of the new kids on the aviation block who has dared to envisage a whole new experience on an aircraft. With its fresh outlook to everything their tagline is most suitable to their strategy – reimagine everything that has been there and done well. From roping in a Hollywood A-lister like Nicole Kidman to a private luxury residence on board and then merging these two for a 360-degree virtual reality movie, Etihad has taken the game of marketing technology few nautical higher. When I watched the film it felt as if I am sitting across Nicole Kidman and am witness to her flight experience as she would live it. It all begins with a script reading for a movie with her director while being served by the butler and as the film progresses I could well be inside The Residence which is no less than your own three-room cabin in the sky with a dedicated butler and chef. This film felt like I was teleported into this scenario and the carefully crafted narrative seems very real. There are many interactions between people that you see or hear in the Economy Class, Business Class and First Class adding to the holistic sensory experience. In fact while watching the film I had to go back to check if I was seeing it correctly – an Emirati with his falcon on board. So you’ve got a travel buddy as a falcon? fly with Etihad Airbus 380, is the clear message. Then again it is a tool to position the new Airbus 380 flying non-stop between New York to Abu Dhabi. 

The team behind this video is quite disruptive in their process and execution which is indeed needed if you are positioning a disruptive airline brand. Etihad chose The Barbarian Group to produce the film with MediaMonks as the creative digital producers. Directed by Anthony Atanasio and Valerie Martinez who have a knack to evoke emotions through their films, used cutting edge techniques that required no warping or stitching of the film. The entire filming was shot in an actual Airbus 380 which was available for four days only to shoot this video. The residence, butler service and seats are all very real as the team decided to avoid any sets and capitalise on the authenticity of the aircraft. There were moving Red Dragon cameras installed in the aircraft with some engineering prowess. Multiple lighting was used inside as well as outside the aircraft to ensure uninterrupted shots. Meanwhile exterior lighting was used to give a transitioning day to dusk effect inside the aircraft while filming continued smoothly. When all’s said and done the film does encourage you to choose Etihad’s award winning luxury abode in the sky over the other options given the sheer scale of the experience and its value. As the CMO Shane O’Hara explains, “Some things need to be experienced not explained. Virtual reality allowed us to make that experience real for viewers.” The film can be viewed on a dedicated website, vr.etihad.com. Viewers can download the Oculus VR app on the airline’s dedicated website and view the film using a virtual reality headset, such as Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard. “Reimagine” also can be seen on YouTube 360. For an Academy Award winning actress like Nicole Kidman this was her first to star in a VR film. Eithad has made it clear that disruptive technology is the best way forward to market itself as the leading carrier in the world.  

Watch the making of the VR film Reimagined here. 

Emirates

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Image Courtesy : Emirates

While it has been an innovative airline for some time now, Emirates has taken a simple in-flight amenity kit and turned it into an augmented reality experience. You may wonder what was the need to add some technology to an ordinary kit? How could it possibly enhance the experience in the first place? Questions that piqued my curiosity too. When on board all you need is a smartphone the Blippar app and your amenity kit to get started. Use the Blippar App to scan the bag, once done it will open up into the Emirates App that shows activities and health tips for passengers not to forget a music playlist specially curated for your journey.  Emirates has teamed up with tech startup Blippar to add some virtual reality to its collection of eye masks, earplugs, toothbrush and socks, as part of a wider overhaul of it amenity kits. These interactive kits are available on selected long-haul routes and on all ‘ultra long-haul routes. This makes the aviation giant a pioneer in providing the industry’s first interactive amenity kits. The amenity kits will come in six different designs based on the six regions in the Emirates global network: Africa, Europe, the Far East, Australasia, Latin America and the Middle East. Each kit represents the region in terms of colour and design.

Cover Image Courtesy: Qantas

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