Could virtual reality revolutionise the travel industry?

Virtual reality seems to be the tech-of-the-moment, but many downplay its use, believing it to attract only a niche market – namely, gaming enthusiasts.

But this is not necessarily the case. As a recent article on Econsultancy points out, the travel industry is already looking into how its use could benefit various marketing efforts. Have you ever considered experimenting with projects based on VR headsets?

The article claims that VR technology is a way of allowing travellers to experience a "virtual taste" of trips they are interested in booking, without having to step foot on foreign soil. They could even enjoy these experiences from the comfort of their own home.

At the moment, the technology is still a novelty, but it is also a scalable and affordable one. Marriott also launched a new "4D experience" – a Teleporter station using the Oculus Rift headset and Thomas Cook is set to launch a campaign whereby 5,000 brochures, complete with $24 Google cardboard headsets, will be sent out to potential customers. These travellers will then need to download an app and start their VR experience using their smartphones. "The closer you get to the destination, the more excited you are to have that experience," says chief digital officer for Thomas Cook, Marco Ryan.

Selling experiences can be a challenge; only very clever design, words and video can come close to replicating the feeling you get of being in a foreign location.

Because VR could potentially change this with promotional VR videos, it's no wonder marketers are turning their attention to this new technology, before their competitors catch wind of its use and it becomes a mainstream consumer tool.

The use of VR doesn't end at sales and marketing, though. It could lead to the creation of an "augmented trip" market, where customers pay to virtually travel to a place they wouldn't be able to physically get to. The article claims that this could be a "blessing and a curse for travel companies", as they could lose out if spend on virtual travel begins to eat into spending on real travel.

Marriott's Vice President Michael Dail, however, claims that "nothing can replace actually going to a destination, experiencing it for yourself, and sharing your experience with others."

To brands that are selling experiences, rather than services or products, VR could really make an impact to companies of all shapes and sizes. Any business that describes itself as "experience-based" could be affected. According to the article, it might not break out of the gaming sector this year completely, but when it does "it could conceivably be as big as when consumers started embracing smartphones."