Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

While it's come to the forefront in recent years, virtual reality (VR) isn't exactly new technology.

The term, according to the Franklin Institute, was coined in the mid-1980s, but the idea of placing a person in a different place virtually dates back to the 1830s when the first stereoscope projected a single image using twin mirrors.

That's the technology behind handheld devices like the View-Master, which was introduced in 1939.

Things like the View-Master -- lower-cost units -- drive consumer adoption of new technology. And VR definitely has a place in travel sellers' toolkits.

Now is arguably the best time to start incorporating VR. While there are probably some savvy agents out there who had View-Masters in the office (if that's you, please get in touch with me!), more reasonably priced units like the Oculus Quest ($299) offer a very high-quality VR experience. Even less expensive -- sometimes free -- are cardboard viewers that are used with smartphones.

Studying the value of VR

The value of VR during a pre-purchase experience was highlighted by a recent study from the University of Naples Parthenope. The study examined VR's role as a touchpoint before consumers purchased a cruise by analyzing MSC Cruises' virtual catalogue of products.

As noted in the study, using VR to showcase a cruise ship could be a useful tool for agents, who might welcome the additional support -- especially for clients who are first-time cruisers. 

"Recent technological innovations are revolutionizing the way products and services can be experienced at all stages of the customer journey," the study states. "What has changed most of all is the capacity to stimulate, involve and persuade customers. Technology like VR can enrich the way customers discover, select and purchase products or services."

How can agencies implement VR? It can be as simple as having a cardboard headset in the office (or sending them as gifts) and sharing a YouTube 360-degree video.

There are also companies who specialize in VR videos, like Travel World VR, Perillo Tours' VR travel marketing company.

John Graham, president of Travel World VR, said VR videos "are no longer a luxury ... they are now a necessity."

Travel World VR has created its own branded cardboard headsets that it will share with agents while supplies last, Graham said. The agents (or their clients) can download the Travel World VR app and access a number of videos, including cruise-focused ones.

"We are now also working with travel suppliers on their communication efforts with agents," Graham said. "One is VR webinars with the use of our TWVR custom-branded headsets. Giving a true immersive experience which, as stated in the VR cruise study, will help boost sales -- for all categories of travel suppliers."

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