The impact of COVID-19 may allow Virtual Reality to permanently shake off its image of being a gimmick in the tourism sector, according to new research.

Hype behind the technology in recent years has often been greater than actual usage, especially for leisure purposes. However, GlobalData research points to the fact that the longer this pandemic impacts travel, the higher the chance is that consumers and organisations adopt this technology on a more permanent basis.

“Spending considerably more time indoors with an abundance of spare time, combined with an urge to travel, has meant that aspiring travellers have been turning to VR to fill a void that travel restrictions have left,” said Ralph Hollister, travel and tourism analyst at GlobalData. “A number of DMOs have started to use VR in marketing campaigns and to recreate tourist experiences. For example, the German National Tourist Board has recently taken viewers on trips across the country, as well as to parts of its Baltic and North Sea coasts.”

Mr Hollister added: “This is all in the interest of drumming up demand as travel resumes. However, it remains to be seen if this kind of VR-focused strategy will last beyond the pandemic and whether this technology will be restricted to usage in the dreaming/planning stage of a trip.”

Mr Hollister say many tourism companies and organisations will now be vying for a competitive advantage in order to accelerate recovery.  “Using VR in marketing – such as room tours in hotels – adds another dimension to campaigns and will improve brand image during and in the aftermath of the pandemic, as it naturally reduces human contact.”

“However, VR now has the opportunity to uplift the travel industry’s marketing strategies, for example using this technology in the booking stage for customers will give them the ultimate experience before even arriving to their destination.”

Amadeus was one of the first to create a prototype of a virtual reality travel and search booking experience.  Mr Hollister says the concept allowed travellers to complete the whole booking process, from choosing the destination/service to payment, all without leaving virtual reality, adding, “The widespread adoption of VR for this kind of purpose could be the next step for this technology and help it permanently move away from its ‘gimmick’ label.”

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