Travel is a sector that I’m particularly passionate about, and one that’s suffered immensely in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. As the industry looks to the future, one of its biggest concerns will be how to improve the whole travel experience and reduce some of the “pain points” that come with travel. I believe VR and AR could help with this.
Here are four ways VR and AR can make travel better.
1. Virtual travel
VR allows us to explore new places without physically traveling there, leading some to speculate whether virtual travel could ever replace the real thing. Personally, I don’t think it will. Virtual travel could never compete with the sights, sounds, smells and sensations of being in an exciting new place. But there’s certainly value in being able to explore parts of the world virtually – not least because we can check out destinations before we decide whether to travel there in real life.
Virtual travel can also help visitors experience destinations that are remote, difficult to get to, or need to be preserved without humans trampling around all over the place. The Patagonia VR experience on Oculus Rift is one example of a particularly rich virtual travel experience. Exploring the mountain landmark of Monte Fitzroy, and specifically Laguna Sucia, the remote glacial lake that lies at the foot of the mountain, this VR experience gives users access to a stunning glacial lake that’s hard to reach in real life.
2. Virtual hotel tours
Thanks to virtual tours, holidaymakers can check out hotels in more detail before they book – kind of like a “try before you buy” (or “fly” as the case may be). Several upscale resorts are now embracing virtual tours as a way to show off their stunning locations and world-class amenities, including a number of resorts in The Maldives. Importantly, many of these tours can be experienced using just a smartphone, tablet, or computer, meaning you don’t need a headset to explore your next holiday destination.
In one example, Atlantis, the Palm in Dubai – situated on The Palm Jumeirah, the famous manmade palm-shaped archipelago – has created a stunning 360 panoramic VR video. The video provides a whistle-stop tour of the hotel’s key features, taking in the impressive lobby, the Royal Bridge (the biggest suite in the hotel), one of the underwater suites (yes, underwater), the famous Nobu restaurant, the aquarium, pool, and waterpark, and finishing with a nighttime stroll around the gardens.
3. Test drive excursions and attractions
As well as checking out different hotels, VR can also help travelers test drive different trips and excursions on offer in their chosen destinations. In other words, you can try out various experiences to decide how you really want to spend your time and money when you arrive on vacation. Virtual excursions can therefore help holidaymakers get more out of their precious vacation time.
But VR trips may also help to encourage bookings in the first place – meaning, a customer may be more inclined to book a vacation once they’ve got a better idea of the fantastic excursions on offer in a resort. British travel agent Thomas Cook experimented with immersive VR experiences that allowed customers to try out different excursions, including a helicopter tour of Manhattan. The company reported a 190 percent uplift in bookings for New York vacations after customers tried the five-minute New York VR experience in store. That has to make travel companies, keen to increase bookings after the pandemic, sit up and take notice.
4. Immersive navigation
So, you’ve virtually visited your chosen destination in advance, taken a VR tour of your hotel, and even tried out a few virtual excursions. Now you’ve arrived at your destination and are ready to hit up your first landmark. If only you could find it…
This is where AR can help – specifically, AR-infused navigation. As the go-to navigational app for most of us, it’s no surprise that Google Maps now incorporates an AR feature for those who are navigating on foot. (At the time of writing, it’s not available for users who are driving.) Called Live View and announced in 2019, the AR route-finding feature is available on all ARCore and ARKit-enabled mobile devices, and in any locations where Google already has Street View. The idea is simple: using the Google Maps app and said AR-enabled device, big arrows, and easy-to-follow directions are overlayed onscreen onto the street view, to guide users on which direction to walk and where to turn.
The idea may be simple, but it’s small advances like this that help to make international travel a heck of a lot easier. So, if you ever end up lost in a busy foreign city, or if you simply struggle to make sense of 2D maps, AR-enhanced route-finding is for you.
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