Should travel brands be thinking about implementing virtual reality?

For most travel brands, virtual reality (VR) technology is still something to think about rather than consider. But if the predictions prove to be right, it'll be a serious consideration soon enough.

Deloitte Global predicts that VR will have its first billion dollar year in 2016, with about $700 million (£540m) in hardware sales, and the remainder from content.

With three quarters of people in the UK now owning a smartphone, there's no reason why VR shouldn't be an enduring success.

However, should the technology truly take off, travel brands will have to decide whether it will "enable a new, lusher travel discovery experience for the masses", suggests Skift. After all, according to Deloitte, VR content could end up consuming a fair chunk of the marketing budget.

"Any company considering marketing via VR imagery should consider the cost of making this content available to consumers," states Deloitte's 2016 Predictions feature on virtual reality.

"For example, travel companies wanting to create VR brochures should assess how much filming and playback in VR may cost relative to current marketing approaches. They should also assess the cost associated with acquiring the hardware needed to display these materials."

There's no doubting, though, the potential of VR for engaging and inspiring travellers – just imagine the impact of transporting customers to the destination they'd always dreamed of visiting.

National Geographic leading the way

National Geographic is one organisation that is already leveraging VR to show off the wonders of the world. It believes it's "premium VR content" – which recently culminated in the 'Through the Ages' project with President Obama – has the power to make people realise their exploration dreams.

"As President Obama says in the piece, the idea is to see the beauty of the parks in the hopes of inspiring people to take the goggles off their head and go there themselves," said Matt Zymet, director of digital media content at National Geographic Channel.

"I don't think there's another brand as well positioned to take advantage of virtual reality than National Geographic. Going out to the far corners of the earth is part of our DNA."

But even for a big brand like National Geographic, money is an object as far as VR is concerned, which means it has to look at sponsorship and partnerships in order "to do the experiences at the level we feel we should be doing".

For most travel brands, then – for now, at least – there's an argument for maximising the potential of your current offerings with technology that has been optimised for the industry. VR's time will surely come, but with the cost of creating content still high and market penetration still relatively low, it's perhaps not a worthwhile investment just yet.

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