How travel brands are using virtual reality

It may be early days but a new white paper from EyeforTravel shows that there are applications for VR in travel

In 2016 as many as 1.5 million units of dedicated Virtual Reality headsets were shipped, with PlayStation coming out tops. It sold 745,000 units, according to the games and interactive media intelligence firm SuperData, followed by HTC Vive (420,000), Oculus Rift (355,000) and 261,000 (Google Daydream).

While many of these headsets are being used for gaming, a new white paper from EyeforTravel poses the question Does Virtual Reality Have a Place in Travel?’ It seems the answer is yes. Between 2017 and 2021 shipments of VR devices are expected to grow by over 400%, with some of them finding their way into the hands of travellers.

Though admittedly still in its infancy for the travel industry, some brands are beginning to experiment.

So far VR lessons from the travel industry include:

  • Understand that timing and relevancy are crucial

  • Don’t rush the storyline - a 360° video requires more time and energy than a normal video

  • Know that a virtual trip will never replace true travel

  • Use VR to highlight specific unique selling points

  • Budget carefully – it’s expensive and there are limits to what you can do!

The white paper take look at some of the early adopters, which we summarise here.

Travel agents

Travel agent Matoke Tours invested $30,000 to launch what it says was the virtual reality travel application. They developed a ‘Virtual Gorilla application’ whereby consumers could download an app and then order a cardboard viewer, allowing users to virtually track gorillas in Uganda. Wim Kok, Owner and MD, Matoke Tours says the app “enables us to convey the intensity and emotion of the travel experience before the journey has even started”. Matoke used VR to highlight unique selling points, such as the accommodation at the lodge and to meet the tour guide. Check out the more detailed case study on page 26 to hear more lessons from Matoke.

Also using Samsung’s Gear VR headset, Thomas Cook partnered with Visualise in ten of its stores to offer travellers the chance to experience destinations like Greece, Singapore, and New York. With flight and hotel bookings generating £12million as a result, it saw a 40% return on investment. Most effective was its visualisation of New York City, where the group saw a 180% uptick in conversions.


Back in 2015, Marriott & Shrangri-La Hotels both used Samsung Gear VR headsets to allow guests to travel the world from their rooms. Marriott’s so-called ‘VRoom Service’ was said to be a first for the travel industry. This allowed guests to to call a dedicated VRoom Service extension or use Marriott’s Mobile Request app to request a Samsung Gear VR headset and headphones. At the same time, the group launched ‘VR Postcards,’ immersive stories that followed a real traveller on a journey to a destination. The first three VR Postcards were shot in the Andes Mountains in Chile, an ice cream shop in Rwanda and on the streets of Beijing.

Best Western Hotels and Resorts was another to use VR, and today guests are able to view a VR tour of nearly 2,000 properties. Dorothy Dowling, Senior Vice President and CMO, Best Western Hotels and Resorts, said the firm had worked with Google Street View to develop the product to gather over 1.7million photos of its North American properties

Theme parks

Think roller coaster ride, and theme parks present a pretty obvious opportunity for VR. With Galactica, Alton Towers Resort has taken that step with the world’s first VR rollercoaster. The company claims that riders are transformed into astronauts and plunged into outer space with a G-force more powerful than a real rocket launch!  

An airline

Lufthansa says it has made VR an integral component of its strategy. Since 2015 it has made VR and 360-degree videos central to marketing, and has also used it for B2B sales events and for staff training in technical departments. Then in July 2016, on a maiden flight from Frankfurt to San Jose Lufthansa organised an inflight conference called FlyingLab to discuss VR where guests were also given the chance to test Samsung Gear glasses. In addition, Thomas Cook won a Clio, the Oscar of advertising, for its Travel Compass, a rotatable touchscreen, which it placed outdoors, allowing passers to view a 360-degree view of a travel destination. 

Download the in depth report here

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