IMAX has launched its first Virtual Reality Experience Centre in Los Angeles and congratulations to them – it looks like the solid consensus among reviewers is that they’ve really liked what they’ve seen. There’s a whole new way to experience content, just like that. Perhaps a VR Experience Centre like this flagship one will be coming to a high street near you some time soon?
We could talk all day about the hardware involved and the respective merits of the range of content in this innovative amusement arcade 2.0, but the really promising bit is what the whole concept of a VR Experience Centre means for the future of content itself. Somewhat ironically given that VR’s raison d’etre is experiencing something without actually going there, it also offers a true game changer for the travel sector in particular.
You gotta go there to come back
Travel stands to gain enormously from VR and the reason why is right back at first principles. By definition, travel requires a degree of commitment – whether your destination is the next town, the moon (light the fuse, Elon Musk!) or any point in between, you’ve definitely got to want to go for one reason or another. Inspirational content can be an essential ingredient in prompting, sustaining or curating that commitment and VR offers the next logical evolution in delivering that inspiration to the traveller in as compelling a form as possible.
In fact, VR has already demonstrated that it can significantly upgrade the customer journey with inspirational content. Instead of seeing a dull static photo of a hotel room or two or a basic video pan around a location if someone’s really trying, VR can allow the user to explore as they please as if they were already there. A handy example is Thomas Cook’s ‘Try before you fly’ VR campaign that allowed the user to enjoy a five-minute taster of a holiday experience – seeing the pyramids in Egypt, a tour of Manhattan by helicopter and so on – and the great response it received. There was a 180% surge in the company’s New York excursions revenue alone, so we can safely say this approach works.
Come for the sunshine, stay for the people
VR is going to be a big part in the future of the travel sector and what we’re seeing today is the early adopters getting to the party first – as ever, William Gibson had it right when he said “the future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.” But, if you’d rather rock up that all-important few minutes fashionably late so you can make an entrance, now is a really good time to join the VR conversation and here’s some free advice.
Firstly, prices are gradually coming down and it’s fairly safe to commit to capital expenditure on hardware. There are still plenty of ingenious startups out there, but the big three of Sony, Valve/HTC and, of course, Oculus are dominating hardware and the dramatic inventions have already happened for the time being. What’s probably going to happen is incremental polishes to essentially stable products just like with any other maturing technology and prices trending downwards towards something feasible for the conventional or business traveller, so VR getting stuck in the popular imagination as an expensive castle in the sky for hardcore gamers alone can be safely ruled out. There’s a new dilemma though – buy now and have the advantage of time on your side, or buy later when kit’s cheaper but risk having someone else steal the march?
Secondly, the really big developments are going to be in content rather than in hardware and it probably goes without saying that we’re really excited about what means for travel content. We’re about to see new players with new moves that allow that crucial connection between peer-and-peer or brand-and-audience to happen in new and interesting ways – and perhaps even surpass the impact of what has gone before – and whole new ecosystems emerge and develop. As ever, it’s not about the tech but about what people do with it and Charles Stross summed it up best: “It turns out that the killer application for virtual reality is other human beings. Build a world that people want to inhabit, and the inhabitants will come.”
Finally, we can put your mind to rest that the audience will be there and your investment won’t go to waste. VR is a pretty vigorous growth sector right now and, along with closely aligned Augmented Reality, Business Insider are projecting a surge in total revenue from an already perfectly respectable $5.2 billion last year to $162 billion in 2020. Hardware shipments are projected to hit 20 million annually by 2018, while year-on-year software revenue growth smashed 200% last year alone. There’s plenty of hype out there, yes, but a great deal of it is genuinely justified. VR really is the next big thing and the travel sector is perfectly placed to ride that wave. Come to think of it, being able to ride a wave in a VR surfing simulation is an easily foreseen scenario if someone hasn’t gone and recorded it already…
Behind the light fantastic
It’s an amusing irony that, although VR is only ever an insubstantial illusion by its very nature, it still offers very real effects for the user. People can be entertained, educated or inspired from the comfort of their own homes, and the remarkable and the extraordinary need not be an impossible distance away after all. The travel sector, with its long history of leveraging new technology as a catalyst for fantastic content, is going to be an interesting area to watch over the next few years.
VR offers a promising new tool in the user’s – and content marketer’s – hand so, if you don’t already have VR somewhere in your content strategy, now’s the time to build it in. You’ll be glad you did later.