Travel industry marketing is ready for a revamp. As virtual reality continues to gain momentum, the opportunities to deliver more engaging and immersive experiences to encourage conversions are becoming ever clearer. Some of the biggest names in Travel, from Marriott to Thomas Cook, have put their money into VR as the next great development for the industry. The ability to provide more compelling content for prospective travellers through VR is not, however, a luxury reserved for the big names. VR experiences for Travel marketing can be easily delivered on even the tightest of marketing budgets.
85% of holidaymakers use the internet as their first port-of-call for travel planning. Research by Google ThinkInsights has found that the average traveller visits some 22 travel related sites during 9.5 research sessions before booking their trip. Another extensive study for Omni Hotels found that when online travel shoppers were presented with immersive virtual resort tours they were 67% more likely to book a room online. A similar study by Ice Portal and Hotel-Seekers.com found overall average bookings increased by 18%. Those statistics are not to be sniffed at. Thomas Cook appears to have taken this sort of research firmly on board with its move towards more VR-focused marketing campaigns, as we’ll explore in more detail below.
Furthermore, 2015 research by Greenlight VR identified that both Generation X and Baby Boomers listed Travel as their number one area of interest for virtual reality, whilst Generation Z and Millennials listed Travel as their number two choice (after Gaming). Virtual-Reality-In-Tourism.com identifies that, in less than a year after the Greenlight VR study was published, over 70% of respondents rated Travel as their number one choice for VR content.
Large brands, such as Qantas, have succeeded in creating hugely successful experiential travel marketing campaigns that can be accessed on anything from the HTC Vive to the Google Cardboard. Qantas created a virtual reality experience of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in Australia, home to the famous Ayers Rock. The immersive experience transported users to the iconic location in a way most had never seen before, delivering a ‘wow’ factor that is virtually impossible to replicate with standard two-dimensional imagery or even video. However, there is no reason why a virtual reality travel marketing campaign can’t be successful on a much smaller budget. As the above stats show, virtual reality resort and destination tours can be hugely effective at boosting both engagement and conversions.
Emotional engagement is, perhaps more than any other industry, the driving force behind conversions in the Travel and Tourism sector. What persuades tourists to visit one destination over and above any other is the sense of emotional connection with both the landscape and the values that it communicates.
Differentiating one destination from another, particularly ones that are superficially similar (tropical beach resorts/European cities, for example), is a tough job, but one that is best communicated through the more interactive mode that VR offers. What’s it like to stand at the top of the Eiffel Tower on a spring night, looking out over the city? Or to stand with your feet in the crystal clear ocean and see tropical fish swimming around your feet in the Seychelles? Virtual reality is like a free sample of what the consumer could experience when they book a trip with you, as you can see in these examples of experience created in collaboration with Spinview, of Charles Bridge in Prague, and of this 360-degree view of Veliko Gradiste.
One of the stumbling blocks to VR adoption at present is the perception that the devices are too expensive. This is, of course, at odds with the market; the perfectly serviceable Google Cardboard retails at just £15, and represents the easiest way to get even basic VR content in front of audiences. Travel providers have the opportunity to provide branded versions of the Google Cardboard inexpensively as a free promotional tool. Considering the clear interest in VR tourism, it’s certainly an avenue worth considering to allow people to experience online VR content from home.
It’s not just online, however, that VR destination marketing is proving its worth. Tui (formerly Thomson) is currently rebranding with the aim of widespread in-store tethered VR. Jeremy Ellis, Marketing Director at Thomson and First Choice, has said:
“Brochures have served their purpose and now is the right time to reinvest the money that we are spending on paper and better investing it in our customers by creating mini holidays in-store through immersive technology. People have to be able to experience the holiday to make the right choice… We still see a strong demand for the personal touch, which is why we see our stores continuing. Rather than being a sales and distribution centre for brochures, the stores will become experience centres.”
Another large travel company, Thomas Cook, has been using VR in its travel marketing for some time already, having won ‘Most Innovation Development in Entertainment’ at the Mobile Innovations Awards for their ‘Try Before You Buy’ virtual holiday experience, which – again – was hosted in-store, at Thomas Cook Concept Stores in Germany, Belgium and the UK. As a result of their virtual experiences at their Discovery stores, the company experienced powerful increases in sales of Caribbean cruises.
With recent bricks-and-mortar travel agency footfall falling dramatically as more people focus online for their holiday bookings, in-store examples like these aim to keep the high street travel agency experience alive.
If you’re questioning why it’s necessary to keep the bricks-and-mortar travel agency alive at all, bear in mind that half of Tui’s sales are still made in-store. “People still want the expertise of a travel agent can deliver in a store,” says Erik Friemuth, group chief marketing officer at Tui. The bricks-and-mortar store is far from dead; driving a deeper experience is, nonetheless, what people are looking for now. And that deeper experience is certainly what virtual reality provides.
The power of experiential VR has proven itself time and again in the Retail sector, particularly in fashion and apparel. Virtual reality has been used for fashion shows and to promote new clothing lines with everyone from Tommy Hilfiger to Topshop. But The North Face is a perfect example of how transporting customers to far-flung locations is an effective vehicle for capturing shoppers’ imaginations. The outdoors-wear brand created virtual reality experiences in which users travelled to locations such as Yosemite National Park and Nepal. The message is clear: if virtual travel can help sell more clothes, then selling the destination itself is a no-brainer.