Virtual reality hasn’t taken off as fast as other consumable technologies and not surprisingly, considering the leaps the ecosystem needs to take (e.g. hardware adoption and content) in order to mature. Travel brands - mainly destination marketers and hotels - have tinkered around with VR as an attention grabber at conferences and industry trade shows. Things could change rather quickly, however, as critical mass is reached in mainstream media.
NBC will live-stream 50 hours of VR coverage of PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games. The key word here is “live” when viewership is at its peak. The network covered Rio in VR in 2016 but for next-day viewing only. This year, live coverage will include opening and closing ceremonies, alpine skiing, curling, snowboarding, skeleton, figure skating, short track, ski jumping, ice hockey, big air and more.
We cannot confirm whether advertisers will feather in their own VR content but we wouldn’t be surprised if Intel, the company powering the emerging media technology, incorporated content around tech and innovation bringing the world closer together through VR.
The South Korea tourism board should and mostly likely will feature a commercial to complement the coverage. We envision breathtaking shots of Seoul and the Korean countryside. Perhaps they will make the message about unity and humanity and how the Olympics is the time to look past old feuds.
Overall, travel marketers should now be thinking about budget for VR content. Presumably, this will include creating clips and previews of the real thing. Come walk on our beaches, or take a look at our health spa. Partnerships with the networks might be the way to go.
The technology also continues to get better. A company called Imverse is taking virtual reality one step further to create what they call “mixed reality”. The user sees thier actual features i.e. hands and feet inside the virtual realm.
Grand View Research estimates the global VR market to reach 48.5 billion by 2025. VR-as-a-subscription is also taking off which indicates to us that the format is maturing. Amazon has also experimented with VR content for their Prime subscribers since 2016.
The big question on our mind is: When will virtual travel start cannibalizing actual travel? Clearly there is nothing like the real thing; it will take time before people make outright choices between virtual and actual holidays. The shift will likely be incremental.
Any technology that supplies our need for “escape” will chip away at travel demand over time. Not because virtual is better than actual - at least now for now. Virtual reality and technology in general could have profound effects on how we interact with others. It could become both the cause and the cure of a new form of isolationism.