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Has VR finally found its killer application in travel marketing?

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

It’s been coming for a while, but Virtual Reality (VR) may have finally arrived. What just last year seemed out of reach for the average consumer is now right in front of us. It’s speaking to us. We’re considering the possibilities. And it’s exciting.

Nick Livermore is marketing manager of Digital Visitor.

Of course, you still have the pioneers (Oculus) and high quality experiences (HTC) on offer – at a price - but there’s also the entry level Google Cardboard and lots in-between.

VR is expected to grow exponentially in 2016, with a number of industries already exploring the marketing potential of VR platforms. Lexus, for instance, is offering prospective customers the chance to test drive the Lexus NX via Oculus Rift. Red Bull is using the technology at air shows to give fans the chance to experience what it’s actually like to sit in the cockpit.

However, these are controlled experiences, designed with the Oculus Rift and other similar products in mind. What’s really exciting about devices like Google Cardboard is their mass marketing potential. Anyone can pick one of these up, slide their phone in and be immersed into a world of VR. Naturally, the Oculus Rift owning Facebook has been quick on the uptake announcing direct support for 360-degree video.

Surprisingly, the uptake of VR in travel marketing seems to have been a little slow. OK, so Marriott has been offering in-hotel ‘postcard’ experiences, enabling guests to explore defined locations through the eyes of others. But that’s hardly reaching for the limits of today’s technology in the field.

So, let’s go a step further. Drones are probably the most talked-about family of devices of 2015 and the recent CES 2016. Suddenly, you have a compellingly potent marketing tool at your fingertips. No longer do you have to struggle to convey the sense of scale, place or excitement of a location to holidaymakers and explorers through print, static image or traditional video.

Now, and I mean now, you can take them straight there, diving into canyons and exploring for themselves. Simply strap in, take off and enjoys a full 360-degree tour of any destination anywhere in the world. VR is the most exciting development in travel marketing for years.

Indeed, there are already several online sources dedicated to full 360-degree video capture at locations right around the globe. But it hasn’t yet been properly extrapolated to travel and destination marketing. By the end of 2016 all that will have changed.

Now, let’s get back to the real world. I admit that the number of people with access to even basic VR remains low. Despite impressive growth, that would seem to throw a spanner into the works. But the technology is flexible. 360-degree video may have its greatest impact when used in conjunction with VR technology, but the two are not mutually exclusive. 360-degree experiences delivered direct to consumers remain compelling and still do an exceptional job of conveying the feel of a location without the added functionality of VR.

It is this flexibility that agencies like ours will be looking to take advantage of over the next 12 months and beyond, as we attempt to grasp this opportunity to engage our audiences more closely than ever before (without them actually being there, of course). It is these tangible experiences, whether fully immersed in VR or scaled back to simple 360-degree video which will lead the way.

Nick Livermore is marketing manager at Digital Visitor.

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