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Are Immersive Technologies the Future of Modern Tourism?

Many industries are now using immersive technologies in the running of their business; from marketers using augmented reality (AR) such as Instagram and Snapchat filters to drive brand awareness, to healthcare professionals using virtual reality (VR) to treat a range of illnesses such as anxiety. Now even as an industry we presume, operating in the real world and profiting from real-life experiences, consumers have started to invest in the immersive media industry: the travel and tourism industry.

The travel and tourism industry has been the hardest hit by the Coronavirus pandemic due to the live nature of the products it sells, such as transportation, accommodation, culture and the experiences that come with visiting a place away from home. Therefore, just like in many other times of crisis, innovation is sparked, meaning that the industry can explore new ways of reaching their market. Destinations, tourism boards and hotels have combatted the dip in traveller numbers by harnessing the power of VR to remain top-of-mind when travel recovers.

Although virtual reality is not a long-term solution to travellers and destinations alike, the use of immersive technologies is more powerful than normal channels of marketing, such as video or social media marketing, due to the powers of embodiment. Academics Markus Kiefer and Natalie Trumpp discussed in their 2012 academic article that VR has a great educational impact on an individual due to the sense of embodiment it provides the user, where learning events are connected to physical actions such as head movement. This leaves a long-lasting impression on the user and makes the experience more memorable.

Marketers may be concerned that VR is an expensive and complex tool, with equipment such as head-mounted devices and video editing software and expertise needed. However, as technology has advanced, it is easier than ever to make your own VR 360 video! Google Cardboard has meant that VR is more accessible to the masses, as users can easily make their own VR headset and attach it to their phone to participate in such experiences. There are also 360-degree cameras available to buy or hire so marketers can produce their own videos to help their audience to remotely visit their bucket list destinations! Just imagine taking a trip down the famous Calle Ocho in Miami, or experiencing Samoa's culture at the Cultural Village in Apia and sitting in a beach Fale, looking to the sapphire ocean in Samoa! VR is the best kind of travel inspiration travel marketers can provide.

As recent news about vaccines has many people hopeful for the recovery of the travel industry, destination, hotel and tourist board attention will now focus on which segments of the market will be the most ready to travel. The younger generations will be more likely to travel as restrictions are eased, whereas other segments may be more hesitant. Miguel Flecha, a travel and hospitality expert for Accenture, told the BBC that VR will be vital in gaining public confidence in travel and aviation. He says, "They [travellers] could be shown health and safety measures, or the check-in process at a hotel in the new reality so that they feel safer, or the boarding process on a flight or cruise.” He continues, "If you're able to increase the comfortability of a client to travel, in the end they'll book. They'll stay in a hotel, or they'll fly with you. That's the return on investment - you're incentivising the client to travel."

As a marketer, would you use VR to market your destination? Do you agree that VR will become a mainstream marketing technique in the future? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!


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