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The Wider Impact of VR on the Consumer Sector

Following on from last week’s article about Virtual Reality and the value it has added to the visitor attraction industry, it is interesting to consider how this technology has impacted the broader consumer sector.

When researching and considering hotels, the galleries provided often showcase the best possible rooms with the most attractive view. On arrival, this is not always the case……..but through VR, this is being eradicated. Companies that are implementing this technology allow guests to have a full tour of the hotel, ensuring that expectations match reality. The Hotelier Magazine recently published:

‘Best Western launched its VR experiences at all 2,200 of its North American properties as part of the company’s brand refresh. For the past three years, Best Western has been working with Google to create 360-degree photos of its properties using Google’s Street View technology. Its new VR experience is an effort to take its existing offerings one step further and create a truly immersive experience, explains Dorothy Dowling, SVP and chief Marketing officer at Best Western. “This is going to allow customers to have an experience before they get to wherever they’re going and really qualify and quantify that experience in terms of what they want to do when they get there.” Best Western’s VR technology takes the company’s accumulation of 1.7 million Google photos and adds music, customized narration and 360-degree videos to create a virtual reality that, when viewed through a VR headset, will place users in a simulated Best Western hotel.’Hotelier Magazine

Impacting the Travel Industry VR is also now impacting on the travel industry through some of the largest and most recognised brands. Behavioural analyst Jo Allison at Canvas8 recently wrote that “Thomas Cook has been investing in virtual reality, using it to enhance the sales experience.” This has successfully been translated into their results as “One in 10 users of the technology at its Bluewater [Kent] store is booking a holiday there and then. A VR helicopter tour of Manhattan boosted revenues for the real thing by 190%.” (Telegraph).

The Revolution The VR revolution is allowing businesses to invest money in enhancing the visitor experience in different ways, rather than just traditional physical experiences. Furthermore, this immersive world that we are transported to every time we pick up the headset exists only digitally. This means that in the future, organisations can offer many more experiences in a smaller physical space since there is no requirement for huge machinery or large displays. The customer should therefore (in theory) get more value for their money with a better experience at a greatly reduced cost.

But, is this wishful thinking? Whilst it is true that VR has helped to add value to visitor attractions, such as ‘Galactica’ at Alton Towers, it has not replaced the attraction. Visitors to Alton Towers report to love the new twist on a classic rollercoaster with the implementation of VR but only because VR adds to the experience, enhancing, rather than replacing the rollercoaster. If the ride had been knocked down and replaced with rollercoaster simulators would the reaction have been quite as positive? The same question applies to attractions which are based around animal experiences and interaction. Nearly 2 million people visited Chester Zoo in 2017, I doubt they would have been satisfied with only seeing virtual animals! However, if it added a new dimension such as experiencing Sabre Tooth Tigers and Woolly Mammoths, the value add could be huge...

Here to stay Virtual Reality is here to stay, how the technology evolves and how leisure operators utilise it remains to be seen. Whether it is a viable alternative to the physical attractions or a great addition is still to be defined. Regardless of the outcome, what we can be sure of is that VR is certainly disrupting the consumer industry and impacting the consumer experience for the better.


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