Imagine as a first-time business traveller to Nigeria, you’re given a sneak preview of what to expect without actually leaving your desk.
Don a headset and navigate your way through the busy Murtala Mohammed International Airport. Take the long drive to Victoria Island in traffic and embark on a quick site inspection of the three hotels that your corporate policy offers as a selection to travellers visiting Lagos.
While the digital revolution is all too often viewed as a threat for travel agents, it should instead be seen as a valuable tool in enhancing the traveller’s experience prior to their departure, as is the case of virtual reality, explains FCM Travel Solutions South Africa GM Euan McNeil.
“When virtual reality was first introduced in the early 2000s, the costs of the technology were exorbitant. The reality today is completely different. With the Samsung Gear device or even Google Cardboard, almost any smartphone can deliver a virtual reality experience.”
One such app, YouVisit, is designed solely to provide ‘virtual’ tours and includes 360-degree panoramic videos and still photographs that are both interactive and dynamic i.e. changing constantly as updated by the app. So, if the business traveller is interested in extending their business trip for leisure and getting a taste of what’s on offer, they can do so from the comfort of their own couch before they travel.
Travel companies globally are already using virtual reality with great success to ‘sell’ travel experiences. Lufthansa was one of the first global travel companies to use virtual reality to cross and upsell to their customers.
The airline trialled an innovative way of selling seating-class upgrades to Premium Economy at the departure gate, immediately prior to their departure. Lufthansa stewards at check-in, and at the departure gate invited passengers to don a pair of new-age virtual reality glasses to experience a 360 degrees view of their Premium Economy seat and cabin.
So innovative was the airline, that up until 40 minutes before departure, passengers were given the chance to virtually try out the cabin and those passengers who decided to go for the upgrade could then pay the surcharge directly at the gate with an agent carrying a mobile payment device. The airline says that it has already achieved considerable success with upgrading passengers to through the use of virtual reality.
Virtual reality can also be used to assist companies with their duty of care responsibility. Concur labs has developed a prototype that helps travel managers deal with traveller security incidents. By putting travellers and managers in real-life situations like earthquakes, the virtual reality technology helps them find and communicate with employees who are affected by the incident, as well as give them an instant view of where their travellers are.
Marriott has meanwhile launched its VRoom Service, which allows guests to order inspiring virtual reality experiences to their rooms, combining storytelling with technology, which Marriott says is important to next-generation travellers.
In the Meetings and Incentives arena, organisers can save time and money in the hunt for their next incentive or conference destination by using virtual reality to create a shortlist without having to visit an array of destinations. Organisers will eventually have to travel to select the final destination, but it helps to get a preview of the variety of destinations and experiences on offer to narrow down the selection.
Virtual reality can also be used in the events space to market an event to prospective attendees and entice them to attend.
Will it ever replace travel? Not likely, says McNeil. “Companies will still need to travel for business. Virtual reality technology, however, will make it a more seamless experience if used appropriately.”