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Virtual reality tourism initiatives help boost travel bookings

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Virtual reality tourism initiatives help boost travel bookings

Virtual reality is helping move the needle on travel deals and timeshare purchases by providing consumers with an enhanced look at what lies ahead on their journeys.

Creative executives, speaking on the "Your VR Travel Agent" panel at the Virtual Reality 20/20 conference in New York on Oct. 16, said the platform is helping their clients book more business.

Richard Cumming, founder of experiential agency Two Goats, said virtual reality has been a key driver for global travel agency Thomas Cook in Europe, where many people still line up their holidays by visiting travel outlets, going through brochures, and ultimately making reservations via the travel agent.

He said that after footage was shot in the format, Thomas Cook partnered with Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. to bring Gear VR equipment into 10 of its European outlets so that potential travelers could gain a sense for what they might find on their excursions. The "try before you fly" initiative resulted in a 190% increase in sales to the attendant destinations and a 40:1 return on investments.

Subsequently, Thomas Cook began offering the VR experiences in all of its outlets, according to Cumming, who also noted the global travel agency began sending out the headsets to its priority customers, and established VR stations in different resorts.

He said virtual reality as a marketing tool has "really piqued customer interest and helped them press the purchase button a lot quicker than in the conventional ways."

Moreover, Cumming said customer complaints have "plummeted," as travelers have already seen what it is like to be "sipping wine" on the room's balcony.

Julie Huynh, unity developer at Isobar, said the digital marketing agency used virtual reality to help boost timeshare sales for Wyndham Worldwide Corp. The cost-efficient game plan centered on a marketing campaign that highlighted footage of the destinations and experiences travelers could enjoy. Rather than flying potential customers to the timeshare destinations, Wyndham invited them to location-based VR demonstrations, a move that helped boost sales while saving costs.

Huynh said Isobar is continuing to work for the client, producing more VR content around different destinations.

Wyndham in August disclosed that it will separate its hotel business into two publicly traded companies: one a pure-play hotelier, the other a timeshare that will be combined with Wyndham Destination Network.

With consumer adoption of high-end VR equipment continuing to lag, location-based events are integral to the format’s continued development, according to Christine Cattano, global head of VR for visual effects and creative content studio Framestore.

"The trends have been disappointing on the consumer level, with the hardware not accessible to everybody," she said.

Cattano noted that location-based VR exhibits could become increasingly important as the technology’s initial touch-point for consumers, pointing to VR and augmented reality initiatives from Walt Disney Co. around "Star Wars" content. She added VR is "huge in China" and that there will be more events with the technology in malls and movie theaters, where IMAX Corp. and AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. are investing in the space.

She expects a rise in such activities over the next five years.

Cumming concurs that VR and augmented reality will benefit from gaining more exposure via location-based events and outlets. He also advised companies in the travel business and other industries to showcase their VR campaigns/content at trade and consumer shows. "This can work on many different levels," he said.