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:
14 PHOTOS
Oculus Rift virtual reality
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A 2-D look at the future of virtual reality in travel
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)
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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