Technology VR and travel: A non-techie's take on her experiences at CES By Michelle Baran / January 20, 2016 Share 1 During HTC Vive’s VR demo TheBlu, users come face to face with a blue whale as well as other marine life. -- LAS VEGAS -- I am no techie. So I found it very entertaining to be standing in line among the true techies of the world waiting to try the new HTC Vive VR experience at the mecca of gadgets and gizmos, the Consumer Electronics Show. As I approached the front of the nearly two-hour line, I suddenly began to panic. "Am I going to have to play a game?" I wondered. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm no gamer, either.I went to CES to check out the latest in VR technology and find out if it's going to have an impact on the travel industry. But much of the VR industry is still very focused on gaming, which is its primary platform coming out of the gates. Still, that is about to change, as just about every industry under the sun, including travel, is yearning to exploit VR's potential and capabilities. I played it cool as I encountered my first VR setup, a stationary bike with hand controls, coupled with the HTC Vive headset. The first experience was riding a horse and trying to lasso some other riders, followed by some racecar driving. But when I encountered the third environment, I couldn't keep my cool: I was on a Pegasus (the winged horse of Greek mythology), and if I pedaled fast enough, it would fly over what appeared to be some version of Arches National Park. I lost it; the sensation was incredible, and the views were awe-inspiring. The author checks out an HTC Vive headset at the Consumer Electronics Show. After proceeding to experience numerous other VR headsets and environments at CES, I was convinced that the travel industry should be all over this technology.While some may differ, I actually saw opportunity in both computer-generated environments (when done really well) as well as in real-world video environments. For example, a version of HTC's TheBlu demo, an underwater VR experience where viewers come face to face with a computer-generated but incredibly realistic blue whale, could definitely be used to promote snorkeling and scuba diving or destinations with rich marine life. It was a hair-raisingly moving experience (though likely far beyond the budget, at least for now, of a small scuba outfit). And while the headsets such as the popular Samsung Gear VR powered by Oculus were certainly as immersive as they promised to be, I could see travel sellers and suppliers doing a lot with the "lesser" hardware. At the Homido booth, I "strapped in" for a roller coaster ride via the $15 Homido Mini, a VR lens that simply clips onto a smartphone that plays a VR app. This experience wouldn't be any less relevant to an agent trying to help a family decide which theme park to take the kids to and is much more accessible than the all-encompassing headsets.The 360-degree video VR experiences ranged from incredibly sharp images to those that were a bit blurry and disorienting (and speaking of disorienting, beware VR-induced motion sickness; I suffered from minor bouts a few times). Regardless of image quality -- and it's only bound to improve over time -- it was still incredibly impressive to suddenly be driving along a road in Vietnam watching as passersby waved or entering a small village and watching as weavers went about their daily tasks, an experience that was hosted by YouVisit.That all of this could inspire travel is a no-brainer. But there is a darker side to all of this for the industry: the notion that VR could actually be used by some to replace travel itself. While those in the VR and travel industries have downplayed this possibility, it's hard to deny it. An avid traveler myself, I found myself thinking that a slightly more in-depth VR travel experience might be enough at times to satisfy some of my wanderlust, or at the very least put it off for a while. We're likely years away from VR of a quality capable of supplanting the travel experience. Yet that is a distinct possibility in the future, and there's no way to prevent it. Still, we're probably looking at niche segments of the population that would rather go somewhere virtually than in real life or would opt for the virtual experience because of mobility or financial constraints. So for the near future, the travel industry should focus on all the unique and truly cool opportunities VR represents and on the mind-blowing new toy we have at our fingertips.