Yeoh Siew Hoon
Yeoh Siew Hoon

I can almost feel your eyes rolling as you read on. You'll be thinking I've got my head too high in the IT cloud, where I actually do spend most of my time these days.

But with age comes courage. (There's got to be at least one benefit to growing old!) I've lately been immersed in the world of virtual reality, or VR, and I'm telling you I've seen the future. Actually, the VR future; it is here, and as with every new technology, there needs to be a tipping point where it becomes mainstream, which means affordable for enough people.

The beginning of that tipping point could come as early as the next major consumer electronics show in the U.S., when manufacturers show off VR devices that don't make you feel like you're wearing a ton of bricks on your head or make you cross-eyed from too much exposure. At the latest, it will arrive by the end of next year. But the tipping point will be crossed sooner rather than later.

Remember that at the beginning of the Internet our eyes perhaps rolled, too. Or at the debut of the mobile smartphone, the first Nokia, our eyebrows went up. But then the iPhone came along and changed everything, and eyes stopped rolling.

Well, already the Samsung Gear VR glasses, powered by Oculus, are priced at an affordable $199, and they're not too bulky or heavy. I could comfortably wear the set even with my spectacles on. All you need is this device coupled with a Samsung Galaxy S6 or Note 4. Oculus is also launching its own device, Rift, in 2016.

Anyway, the point of this column is not to bore you with technology but to talk about the future of travel content. See, these days, we've all become desensitized to content. There's just too much out there. Instagram is just one nonstop stream of gorgeous photos of beaches and resorts designed to make you want to visit them. Facebook is full of your friends' holiday photos, intended to make you envious.

And now, videos have become huge on Facebook, too. Suddenly, YouTube is looking rather old school because the Facebook feature on videos leads you to "related videos," and so it has become a discovery platform, as well, rather than just a search tool.

The point, though, is that because there is just so much content, we've become so jaded that even the most stunning of images hardly warrants more than a second glance, and if a video goes on for too long (more than one second), our attention has already moved on.

Yeoh Siew Hoon in virtual reality mode on the Samsung Gear VR headset powered by Oculus.
Yeoh Siew Hoon in virtual reality mode on the Samsung Gear VR headset powered by Oculus.

Enter virtual reality, which if done right, can really transport you and fill you with a sense of wonder. 

I first tried virtual reality at a Lufthansa stand at ITB Berlin. It simulated a business- class experience on a flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco. It was just OK. The Oculus Rift developer's kit was chunky, and anyway, a flight is not much to get excited about, even if there is Champagne onboard. But it did open my eyes to the possibilities.

Then I tried three destination videos produced by Brand Karma, a new-media agency specializing in hospitality, and I literally saw the light. The videos were of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; Shangri-La, in China's Yunnan Province; and Lhasa, Tibet.

I've always wanted to go to Mongolia, and this video, which followed a tour guide as he showed me places, absolutely transported me and made me determined that I must go there soon.

I'd been to Shangri-La and Lhasa, and these two videos brought back such powerful memories that I yearned to revisit them.

These videos, which I viewed with a Samsung Gear VR, were filmed using six Go Pro cameras in a custom 3-D mount. The footage was then stitched and edited; the result is a truly immersive experience. You look up and see the big blue sky of Tibet, and you want to touch it. You look ahead and see the massive grasslands of Mongolia, and you want to walk through it. You look behind and see a herd of yaks grazing on the grasslands of Shangri-La, and you want to go up and say hello.

As someone who loves content and storytelling, I've been wondering about where content can go. I still love print, and the written word as printed is eternal. I love videos; they tell travel stories well.

Virtual Reality has the ability to infuse your most well-traveled customers with a new sense of wonder about places, and for virgin travelers, well, it'll just absolutely get them off the couch and onto a plane.

Just as social media enabled independent businesses to market themselves globally, virtual reality will enable the remotest and smallest of places to reach customers with as lifelike an experience as possible. It will never be as good as being there, but it comes close.

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