A growing number of travel advisers are reporting that
virtual reality (VR) is helping them close sales more often and faster, and
several said they're considering ways to put the technology in their clients'
hands with branded headsets to make it more accessible.
"You know, you can talk up a resort, you can talk up a
destination, but letting them experience it for themselves like they're really
there gets them very excited about trips," said Michele Botnick, owner of
Lucky N Love Travel in Roswell, N.M.
Botnick is among the agents using a product developed by
Virtual Honeymoon, a company owned by former agent Robin Hawkey, who created a
set of interactive, online quizzes to help clients narrow their preferred
The service now offers quizzes for honeymoons, vacations,
anniversary trips and weddings (including venue matching). Agents who sign up
for the service also get access to VR content for which Hawkey partners with a
Canadian company, Explor VR.
A number of Hawkey's agent clients, including Botnick, have
begun bringing VR headsets powered by smartphones to bridal shows. They have
prospective clients take Virtual Honeymoon's quiz, which takes into account
personal preferences and budgets to determine two recommended destinations.
They then showcase one or both destinations on the VR headset.
"It literally is doubling their sales," Hawkey
said. "They are closing sales quicker, and it gets the clients really excited."
Hawkey has seen agents' use of VR increase in the past year
or so, a trend she attributed to the increasing quality and affordability of
VR has existed in some form for decades, but the market for
headsets designed for consumer use has exploded in recent years. At first,
headsets required expensive computers to run, but versions that utilize a
smartphone have become very common.
Some cost less than $20, among them the Google Cardboard, a
smartphone-powered headset. Sets that run off smartphones range in price and
Newer entrants even run as standalone systems, not requiring
a smartphone. Among those is the Oculus Go (starting at $200). Higher-end
headsets requiring the use of a computer cost hundreds of dollars for the
Companies in the retail travel space have been experimenting
with VR in recent years. For example, Virtuoso several years ago beta-tested
the use of high-end headsets in member agencies. The consortium found that
interest varied greatly among members, and VR efforts are now member-driven.
One of those interested members is Direct Travel. Vicky
DiMichele, digital marketing manager of leisure at the agency is Willoughby,
Ohio, said it plans to introduce VR this year using Oculus Go headsets.
The idea is to place headsets in offices with walk-in
leisure business. She would showcase videos from suppliers but is also
considering creating her own VR content, especially from familiarization or
adviser-incentive trips. That could also be useful for agents, DiMichele said.
Guests viewing content from Virtual Honeymoon at a bridal show.
Largay Travel of Waterbury, Conn., another Virtuoso agency,
was an early tester of using high-end headsets in agencies, but Scott Largay,
director of marketing, said the agency ran into issues with content
The agency was attempting to create its own content and app,
but Largay said he found that limits to the amount and quality of content "was
very restrictive to what we were looking to do."
Companies producing VR content weren't able to produce the
caliber of content Largay wanted, he said, and those that could were "astronomically
"Virtual reality will be a big part of the travel
industry moving forward, and I will be there with my headset on when it
happens," he said. "But it's just not right now."
While some have taken a step back from VR, Virtual Honeymoon's
Hawkey is doubling down on the technology and encouraging resorts to start
filming weddings with it.
She works with several VR companies, and each has agreed to
record at least one complimentary mock wedding as long as the resort hosts the
production (and, of course, arranges the event). Hawkey said she has several
resorts interested and that she believes they will see a direct impact on
bookings if agents showcase weddings virtually.
She said other resorts would likely follow suit and pay to
have their own mock weddings recorded in VR.
"The reason that we're doing that is to prove how
powerful viewing VR weddings really is and to show how that venue is going to
double, if not triple, their weddings by doing something as powerful as a
virtual wedding," she said. "Because then you can literally drop the
couple into the wedding without being there."
It's not a cheap prospect. In addition to the mock wedding,
VR videos feature other aspects of the property to give viewers a better feel
for what they will experience. Hawkey estimated that recording one property
costs between $7,500 and $10,000, a price driven not only by the effort to
videotape at a resort but also the costs of expensive professional equipment
and the editing process.
The expense involved in VR is what led Camille Sanders,
owner of Chic Romance Travel in Fresno, Calif., to partner with Virtual
Honeymoon to offer VR to her clients instead of trying to create her own
program and content.
"It's very expensive to produce," she said. "It
definitely is better to partner with somebody."
Like Lucky N Love's Botnick, Sanders brings headsets to
"I feel it really sets me aside differently than
anything out there, especially with other local agencies," Sanders said. "It's
something different to offer."
Miki Taylor, founder and CEO of Taylor & Co. Travel in
Auburn, Ala., lives in a college town and brings the headsets to many local
events. She said VR has gone over very well with clients, especially students,
for whom Taylor plans many spring break trips.
"If I had a storefront, I'd have [headsets] on every
station," Taylor said. "Every agent would have them, and they would
use them to sell. It sells itself."
Both Sanders and Botnick are also considering purchasing
branded headsets that are inexpensive, foldable and easily mailable to clients
around the country, who can use their smartphones to view VR content.
Hawkey said VR is a powerful technology for agents to have
in their arsenal.
"I just feel it in my gut," she said. "If
agents don't get on with the technology, they're going to be the next ones out