The number of Canadians travelling to the U.S. is up 5%, dodging the Trump Slump and keeping tour operators here upbeat about their sales volumes to U.S. destinations.
Of all the tech trends to come along in the past several years, few are more well-suited to the home-based retail industry than virtual reality (VR). It’s an easy way to add a high-impact boost to a sales pitch using minimal equipment and at minimal cost. Home-based agents looking to introduce their clients to destinations around the world via VR technology just need a simple headset – available from $20 – and a smartphone.
Already a multi-billion-dollar industry, VR personalizes the sales pitch – at a time when clients are clamoring for anything and everything customized – and takes travel marketing to a whole other level. It’s most often described as “the next best thing to being there”.
Travelweek launched its Explor VR earlier this fall with an app that can be downloaded by anyone with a smartphone. The smartphone then slides into the VR headset – available for purchase from $19.99 at XplrVR.com – and within minutes clients can experience their favourite vacation destination in 360-degree virtual reality.
Leroy Bridges, Media & Interactive Director for Visit St. Pete Clearwater (and a partner on the Explor VR platform) says every time he puts a VR headset on someone, whether they’ve been to St. Pete Clearwater or not, “they are blown away by how close they get to real-life experiences, like parasailing over the Gulf of Mexico or seeing dolphins jump in the wake behind a boat.”
St. Pete/Clearwater is so diverse, says Bridges, that the VR experience gives clients the opportunity to experience the white sand beaches, nature, world-class art scene and bright sunshine in a matter of minutes. “There are only so many regular videos or maps you can look at. VR brings all of that to life in an incredible way,” says Bridges.
VR is just as effective selling St. Pete/Clearwater to consumers as it is educating travel agents, he adds. “The power of the tool can’t be overstated. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever had.”
G Adventures, another early adopter of Travelweek’s Explor VR, showcases the colourful chaos of India in one of its VR videos. Every traveller G Adventures has spoken to that has tried its VR is amazed by the experience, says Aizaz Sheikh, Marketing Manager, Canada, G Adventures. “VR caters to our industry more than many others. You get to put yourself somewhere and really whet your appetite as to how it would be to be in destination. This surely inspires wanderlust more than an image or video,” says Sheikh.
Using Explor VR, agents can showcase not just the destination, but the trip experience too, a key selling point with a product like G Adventures. Sheikh says G Adventures’ India VR video is hosted “by a very popular CEO. He guides you through a wonderful river adventure as if you are actually part of his group.”
G Adventures’ VR product is “very experiential”, notes Sheikh, and while the company keeps the execution of its product consistent, what would-be travellers experience in every destination is completely different. “VR gives our travellers a chance to sample different destinations from a travel agency or their living room,” he says. “You feel like you’re actually in the destination.”
Devin Kinasz, Director of Digital Strategy, Travelweek said agents were top-of-mind when developing Explor VR. “We’re always thinking of ways to add value for travel agents, so we thought long and hard about the future of travel marketing, and created a suite of sales tools agents can use to capture the attention of consumers,” she said. “The result of our efforts is the industry-leading Explor VR, which puts fun virtual reality destination experiences into the hands of agents and their customers.”
About two dozen destination experiences are already included on the Explor VR app ranging from destinations, hotels and airlines to cruise lines and attractions.
And while some in the travel industry fear that VR will replace travel, “we’ve seen the exact opposite impact,” says Gordon Meyer, Director of Marketing at YouVisit. “After experiencing our travel content, we’re finding that people are even more excited and motivated to visit a location. We believe that as the devices and software supporting this technology continue to grow and advance, virtual reality will become even more interactive and engaging for viewers, ultimately driving them to book more vacations and see even more of the world.
“The goal of VR is not to replace the world around us, but rather to give us a taste of the possibilities.”
To order a $19.99 Explor VR Starter Kit or upgraded VR viewer models, and to download a User Guide and see helpful videos, check out XplrVR.com.