A 2-D look at the future of virtual reality in travel

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What We'll See From Virtual Reality In 2016

Since the 1990 release of "Total Recall," the film in which Arnold Schwarzenegger reclined, put on goggles and took a virtual reality vacation to Mars, the travel industry has been intrigued by the technology's promise.

Early commercial experiments used augmented reality, simpler software that's popular for video games and doesn't require special equipment to view. And in 2014, when Facebook spent $2 billion to buy the virtual reality headset maker Oculus, the travel industry took notice. What's more, the latest Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions forecast from Deloitte predict a $1 billion year for virtual reality in 2016, with $700 million being spent on hardware and $300 million on content production, indicating the technology's accelerating adoption.

Evolving from Augmented Reality to Virtual Reality

"What makes AR and VR cool is that they're interactive. Viewers can click, move a mouse, or turn their heads and make a choice of what to see from a 360-degree view," says Eric Miro, creative director at General Idea, a design studio for three-dimensional animation and visual effects.

Virtual reality is more immersive than augmented reality because viewers wearing a helmet or goggles focus on a new 3-D, 360-degree reality with no awareness of their immediate surroundings.

With such potential, why aren't we all enjoying virtual reality experiences? Producing virtual reality content is expensive and, because the public has been slow to adopt the wearable technology that makes it work, there's not much available to see.

YouVisit virtual reality travel

The Travel Industry's Experimentation with Virtual Reality

In 2014, the early adopters at Marriott Hotels designed a phone-booth-like "Teleporter Room" that traveled to eight cities, presenting virtual tours of Hawaiian beaches and the London skyline. The Marriott teleporter used an Oculus Rift DK2 virtual reality headset, wireless headphones, and so-called 4-D techniques (heat, wind and movement) to enhance viewers' experiences.

With 500 hotels and resorts in nearly 50 countries, Marriott is still innovating. Their "VRoom Service" program, produced in collaboration with Samsung, was just tested at their New York and London hotels. It enables guests to order virtual reality experiences by phone or app to be consumed in their rooms – ironically, at a time when in room dining is disappearing from many chain hotels. On the devices, users can view "VR Postcards" featuring video footage of immersive travel adventures.

"It combines storytelling with technology, two things that are important to next generation travelers," says Matthew Carroll, vice president, Marriott Hotels.

Destinations have also rolled out innovative virtual reality technology. The tourism office for British Columbia produced a virtual reality experience that lets visitors at brick and mortar tourist offices select among outdoor adventure activities they can pursue once in Canada.

"At the point of sale, virtual reality is a very effective tool," Miro explains.

And China's national tourist office recently previewed a virtual reality tour of Beijing's Temple of Heaven. Wearing headsets, viewers could turn and see the gardens behind the main temple; using the controller, they could zoom in and study its architectural details.

YouVisit.com virtual reality travel

The Variety of Virtual Reality Content Increases

The pace of virtual reality technology adoption is accelerating. Facebook is encouraging the Discovery Channel, VICE and other producers to create 360-degree videos for their News Feeds. The New York Times Magazine recently packaged its cover story with a virtual reality film and sent out a million Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers (a $25 paper viewer with 3-D lenses) to subscribers. Prospective travelers, who use the viewer to eliminate the spherical warping of 3-D videos seen on 2-D hotel booking websites, can simulate what it's like to be virtually there.

Suzanne Sanders, director of marketing at the virtual reality production company YouVisit.com, emphasizes the potential of interactivity to engage travelers in new destinations. She says visitors spend an average of 10.4 minutes interacting with a virtual reality experience, and average 22 percent more in-person visits after the experience

What's Next in the Virtual World?

The jury is out on whether digital exposure to a destination – no matter how realistic or how in-depth – will prompt the in-person visits that translate into tourism revenue. "The technology seen in 'Total Recall' is here now, but the virtual vacation experience...it's going to take a while," Sanders says.

See photos of the Oculus Rift virtual reality experience below:
28 PHOTOS
Oculus Rift virtual reality
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A 2-D look at the future of virtual reality in travel
FILE - In this Thursday, June 11, 2015 file photo, Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe holds up the new Rift virtual reality headset during a news conference in San Francisco. Oculus is hosting its second annual conference for virtual reality developers, running Sept. 23-26, 2015, in Los Angeles. The company is scheduled to release the consumer edition of its Oculus Rift VR headset early next year. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
FILE - In this June 11, 2015 file photo, the new Oculus Rift virtual reality headset is on display following a news conference in San Francisco. If youâre a gamer, the appeal of immersing yourself in a virtual world might be obvious. Strap on a headset and you could find yourself in a three-dimensional death match with opponents who could -almost literally - creep up right behind you. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
Oculus Founder Palmer Luckey talks about the Rift virtual-reality headset during a news conference Thursday, June 11, 2015, in San Francisco. Oculus is expanding its highly anticipated virtual-reality headset to simulate the sensation of touch and gesturing as part of its quest to blur the lines between the fake and genuine world. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe talks about the new Rift virtual-reality headset during a news conference Thursday, June 11, 2015, in San Francisco. Oculus is expanding its highly anticipated virtual-reality headset to simulate the sensation of touch and gesturing as part of its quest to blur the lines between the fake and genuine world.( AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Oculus Founder Palmer Luckey talks about the Rift virtual-reality headset during a news conference Thursday, June 11, 2015, in San Francisco. Oculus is expanding its highly anticipated virtual-reality headset to simulate the sensation of touch and gesturing as part of its quest to blur the lines between the fake and genuine world. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Oculus founder Palmer Luckey talks about the new Oculus Touch input device for the Rift virtual reality headset during a news conference Thursday, June 11, 2015, in San Francisco.(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Elies Campo tries the Oculus Rift Experience, giving the user a 360 degree, 3-D view to travel through a network and clear potential threats, during the RSA Conference on Wednesday, April 22, 2015, in San Francisco. Threat analysts, security vendors and corporate IT administrators have gathered here to talk about malicious software, spear-phishing and other attacks that can steal money or secrets from companies and consumers. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
FILE - In this June 11, 2014 file photo, a man tries out the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset at the Oculus booth at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, in Los Angeles. From virtual reality headsets to the latest installments of "Halo" and "Uncharted," the newest hardware and software will be hyped by nearly 300 exhibitors at the 2015 Electronic Entertainment Expo, the gaming industry's annual trade show held June 16-18, 2015, in Los Angeles. What will be this year's game changers? (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe talks about the features of the new Rift virtual reality headset during a news conference Thursday, June 11, 2015, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
FILE - In this Jan. 7, 2014 file photo, show attendees play a video game wearing Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets at the Intel booth at the International Consumer Electronics Show(CES), in Las Vegas. Facebook said Tuesday, March 25, 2014, it has agreed to buy Oculus for $2 billion, betting that its virtual reality may be a new way for people to communicate, learn or be entertained. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
The Oculus VR Inc. Rift headset is displayed for a photograph during the 'Step Into The Rift' event in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, June 11, 2015. Facebook Inc.'s Oculus virtual-reality headsets will work with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 10 and use the software maker's wireless Xbox game controller. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 16: Oculus emplyoee Patrick Hercamp (R) helps set up the virtual reality head-mounted display Oculus Rift CV1 on John Peters (L) at the Annual Gaming Industry Conference E3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center on June 16, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. The Los Angeles Convention Center will be hosting the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) which focuses on gaming systems and interactive entertainment, featuring introductions to new products and technologies. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 16: Game enthusiast, Jacob Mix, tests out the virtual reality head-mounted display Oculus Rift CV1 at the Annual Gaming Industry Conference E3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center on June 16, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. The Los Angeles Convention Center will be hosting the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) which focuses on gaming systems and interactive entertainment, featuring introductions to new products and technologies. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 18: A Rift VR headset is on display at the Oculus VR booth during E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo at Los Angeles Convention Center on June 18, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Daniel Boczarski/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 18: A Rift VR headset is on display at the Oculus VR booth during E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo at Los Angeles Convention Center on June 18, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Daniel Boczarski/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 21: Singer-songwriter Usher tries Oculus Rift at the Pencils Of Promise Gala at Cipriani Wall Street on October 21, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 21: Singer-songwriter Usher tries Oculus Rift at the Pencils of Promise gala at Cipriani Wall Street on October 21, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 12: Westfield introduces world first Oculus Rift Virtual Reality headsets ahead of 'Future Fashion' an immersive pop-up experience at Westfield London on March 12, 2015 in London, England. Future Fashion will take place at Westfield London from 27-29 March and Westfield Stratford City from 2-4 April. (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for Westfield)
BERLIN, GERMANY - APRIL 23: BERLIN, GERMANY - APRIL 23: A video gaming fan play games with a Oculus Rift Head-Mounted Display at the Gamefest during the International Games Week Berlin trade fair on April 23, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. The International Games Week Berlin highlights trends in video gaming but also brings together industry professionals from April 21-26 at events across the city. (Photo by Axel Schmidt/Getty Images) (Photo by Axel Schmidt/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 08: The Oculus VR Crescent Bay Headset prototype is displayed at the 2015 International CES at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 8, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The immersive, virtual reality headset is meant to be a consumer version of the Oculus Rift and features 360-degree head tracking and high-quality integrated audio. CES, the world's largest annual consumer technology trade show, runs through January 9 and is expected to feature 3,600 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to about 150,000 attendees. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
An attendee wears an Oculus Rift HD virtual reality head-mounted display at he plays EVE: Valkyrie, a multiplayer virtual reality dogfighting shooter game, at the Intel booth at the 2014 International CES, January 9, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO /ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - APRIL 23: A video gaming fan play games with a Oculus Rift Head-Mounted Display at the Gamefest during the International Games Week Berlin trade fair on April 23, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. The International Games Week Berlin highlights trends in video gaming but also brings together industry professionals from April 21-26 at events across the city. (Photo by Axel Schmidt/Getty Images)
Elies Campo tries the Oculus Rift Experience, giving the user a 360 degree, 3-D view to travel through a network and clear potential threats, during the RSA Conference on Wednesday, April 22, 2015, in San Francisco. Threat analysts, security vendors and corporate IT administrators have gathered here to talk about malicious software, spear-phishing and other attacks that can steal money or secrets from companies and consumers. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Children wearing the Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets, experience virtual reality technology at the experience hall "T.um mobile" of SK Telecom's Information and Communications Technology, or ICT, in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014. SK Telecom, the largest mobile carrier in South Korea, opened Wednesday the hands-on experience center where children can learn about the history and latest trends of information and communications technology in Seoul.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A man tries out the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset as show attendees wait in line outside the Oculus booth at the Electronic Entertainment Expo on Wednesday, June 11, 2014, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
FILE - In this June 10, 2014 file photo, show attendees play a video game with Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, in Los Angeles. Oculus, the virtual reality company acquired by Facebook earlier this year for $2 billion, is holding its first-ever developers conference and is expected to discuss the much-anticipated release of its VR headset for consumers. The two-day Oculus Connect conference begins Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, file)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 12: Westfield introduces world first Oculus Rift Virtual Reality headsets ahead of 'Future Fashion' an immersive pop-up experience at Westfield London on March 12, 2015 in London, England. Future Fashion will take place at Westfield London from 27-29 March and Westfield Stratford City from 2-4 April. (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for Westfield)
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