Virtual reality (VR) has many potential commercial applications. When VR is used accordingly, the tourism industry may benefit from this technology.
Many tourism-focused businesses like hotels, airlines, vehicle rentals, and amusement parks are looking for ways to make their products and services visually appealing to customers. An essential method to do this is through the use of images.
One of the new, novel ways these businesses do this is by offering virtual tours for traveling to add immersion to the customerís experience.
Suppose you are unable to travel to various tourist destinations or are stressed because of the current pandemic. Virtual tours may reduce anxiety by allowing you to view and experience the place from the comfort of your home.
You may use virtual tours in other industries like education to explore and learn about the school grounds. In sports, for example, you can view a virtually rendered stadium on your computer while simultaneously placing online sports bets or viewing team stats.
So how exactly does VR technology benefit tourism, especially customers who are still planning their travels? This article addresses this question and provides various ways VR can be utilized by tourist-facing businesses to attract clients.
The Role of VR in Tourism
The tourism and hospitality industry uses various marketing tools to attract customers and travelers to purchase their products and services. One of the most current marketing methods in this industry is a virtual tour.
Virtual tours allow users and would-be travelers to experience the feeling of being in an actual tourist location without necessarily being physically present.
This type of tour places you at the center of a virtual scene to make the visualization of the actual place more accessible and more immersive than regular pictures or videos can do.
To provide a virtual tour for their customers, companies must utilize various technologies like VR and augmented reality (AR) to deliver the virtual experience to their guests.
VR allows a person to be immersed in a three-dimensional (3D) virtual environment, usually through a headset or smartphone.
The technology allows more interaction between the viewer and the image and may enable the customer to visualize a tourist destination better than a static two-dimensional (2D) picture.
Through VR, you may experience what a particular place may look and feel like without being physically present in that location.
Unlike a regular video presentation where you cannot interact with the destination being shown, a VR-based virtual tour allows you to interact with your virtual surroundings.
Using VR technology, you can look and walk around in your virtual environment, simulating a physical tour as if you were in the actual place.
Some virtual tours require you to move physically, like walking or looking around, for additional immersion in the virtual world.
Be careful, though, since you might bump into a table or stray off the path in your actual environment. Consider remaining seated or bringing a companion on your virtual tour to ensure safety.
VR is slightly different from AR, although they operate using similar virtual concepts.
While VR uses a headset that allows you to interact with a fully 3D environment, AR uses the camera on your mobile device to let 3D elements interact with the real world.
To demonstrate the difference between VR and AR, VR simulates a real or imagined place and lets you interact with that environment without necessarily being in that actual place.
For example, a VR version of an actual hotel may let you walk through the hotelís lobby and corridors and visit each room type without going to the physical hotel.
VR may use a full or partial 3D rendering of a location, a panoramic photo converted into a 3D environment, or a video taken with a 360į camera to deliver an interactive virtual experience.
On the other hand, AR interacts with your physical surroundings through your smartphone camera. AR shows you the virtual elements on the screen as if those elements were part of the real world.
For example, you may face your smartphone camera on a historical landmark at a centuries-old house. When your AR app detects the marker, a virtual tooltip containing trivia or information about the place may appear on your screen.
Whether tourist-facing businesses utilize VR or AR, these businesses must consider using these technologies to enhance the travelerís experience.
How Virtual Tours Benefit Travel Intentions
Virtual tours provide several advantages that may benefit travelers and tourism businesses. These benefits include:
Mental Imagery Influencing Purchase Intentions
VR technology enables a person to experience telepresence or the state where they can feel as if they are present in an actual or imagined location.
For telepresence to be effective, VR technology uses mental imagery that relies on vividness and level of interaction. Telepresence is better conveyed when you compare a 2D and 3D presentation of a tourist location.
For example, when a picture of a place is shown in 3D rather than 2D, you may feel that you are in the actual location even if you know the presentation is just a picture.
Furthermore, envisioning a trip to the supposed destination may evolve since an interactive 3D image now assists your imagination.
The virtual information you receive through telepresence and mental imagery may help you make more informed decisions. These decisions are helpful when deciding to book your upcoming travel itinerary.
For travelers planning to go to a particular destination, telepresence allows them to have a prior experience or sneak peek of how the actual place will look and feel.
On the other hand, virtual tours may also help tourists unable to go on a trip because of lockdowns or quarantines due to the pandemic.
Through the virtual tourís mental imagery aided by telepresence, these would-be tourists can at least immerse themselves in the sights of a chosen destination even without physically being there.
Scientists theorize that higher levels of telepresence may have positive effects on mental imagery.
For example, higher image resolutions make the 3D picture less pixelated. This feature allows you to see more detail and may lead to higher immersion and mental visualization of the place.
Positive Effect on Happiness Predictions
Businesses may also use VR technology to influence predictions on a travelerís happiness. Being able to predict hedonic or pleasant benefits allows tourist-facing businesses to provide better products and services.
Your decisions on what tourism products and services to choose are usually driven by your expected hedonic benefits like relaxation, excitement, or happiness.
For example, you travel to a tourist destination expecting to unwind and slow down from your hectic business schedule. The level of satisfaction you experience from your trip depends partly on those expected hedonic benefits before you arrive.
Virtual tours for traveling provide a way to measure or even influence predicted benefits or expectations.
When travelers are offered a virtual tour of the supposed destination, they may form expectations of hedonic benefits. They may also make more detailed plans for the trip based on the information they receive from the virtual tour.
In a way, the virtual tour may serve as an advertisement of the destination. As such, these ďadvertisementsĒ are meant to create a positive mental image of the tour location in the travelersí minds.
This positive mental image may influence your expected hedonic benefits and decisions on your travel plans.
For example, the virtual tour shows you scenic images of your planned destination that appeal to your senses. In that case, you may feel excited to visit the place, hoping to receive a similar or better experience than the simulated tour.
Virtual tours may also reveal details about your destination that you may not have known beforehand. This new information may also add to your expectations and even convince you to adjust your travel plans to accommodate those additional details.
For example, the virtual tour shows you a shop or route that may appear hidden in a traditional 2D image. You can adjust your itinerary with the new info you receive.
Potentially Strong Influence Over Inexperienced Travelers
Tourists who have prior experience traveling to a particular destination may be less influenced by a virtual tour featuring that location.
Some of the reasons this situation may occur among experienced tourists include having a pre-established mental image or familiarity with the target destination.
When guests have physically traveled to a tourist location, their direct experience is likely to be more robust than those with indirect experience.
This situation may cause these seasoned travelers to resist the virtual tourís claims that may run counter to their experience.
They may also be less focused on the features shown in the tour and look for more novel opportunities in the destination that they have yet to discover.
For example, travelers who previously toured the location featured in a virtual tour may look for hidden gems tucked away from the main tourist routes. These places need further exploration or more local knowledge.
On the other hand, new travelers are likely to be strongly influenced by virtual tours. There is a good chance that these inexperienced travelers who partake in the virtual tour will be excited to experience the tourist destination in person.
Additionally, the more vivid and immersive the virtual experience is, the stronger the influence on these inexperienced travelers.
Given this situation, marketing in the tourism industry utilizing virtual tours is likely to appeal to new travelers. Meanwhile, marketing success for experienced tourists is expected to be limited.
Emotional and Sensory Alternative to Consumption Experience
The COVID-19 pandemic has limited or even prevented a lot of people from traveling. As a result, the tourism industry has also been adversely affected.
For some people unable to travel due to this situation, virtual tours have become an alternative to experiencing the actual destination.
Despite being unable to travel to the physical tourist spot, these people may still experience enjoyment through virtual tours in two ways.
One, they may experience hedonic benefits like enjoyment or relaxation at the time of information processing. In other words, people may experience instant gratification upon participating in the virtual tour.
Two, the would-be travelers may develop future expectations of enjoyment or relaxation. For example, they may make early plans to go to the actual destination at the next allowable opportunity to travel due to expectations of future happiness.
For tourism businesses, making this distinction may help develop new marketing methods.
Some businesses may design their marketing to have more focus on providing the best virtual tours to customers. Other companies may use virtual tours as a tool to encourage people to travel more in the future.
For example, more immersive virtual tours may cater to people unable to travel but who wish to experience the tourist destination nonetheless.
In this case, virtual tours have to appeal more to emotion and senses. The viewer may see and feel as much of the actual destination as in the virtual environment.
Alternatively, virtual tours that emphasize the destination may appeal to people who have actual travel plans. In effect, the virtual tour becomes a preview that motivates the viewer to travel.
The tourism industry continues to evolve its marketing methods to appeal to experienced and newbie travelers.
Through virtual tours, these businesses may influence your behavior as a consumer so that you will continue to patronize their products and services.
However, the recent pandemic has affected travelers and tourism businesses alike. Companies need to offer an alternative solution to their clients. Virtual tours may be a viable tool to experience the destination without traveling.
For virtual tours to appeal to people, especially those unable to travel or who have plans to do so, these tours must provide high levels of mental imagery and telepresence.
Successful implementation of a virtual tour may lead to higher levels of happiness among customers, including expected or predicted satisfaction.
Additionally, the tour may encourage viewers to travel more since actual, physical experience may be more memorable and robust than an indirect, simulated experience.
However, virtual tours are tools businesses must utilize adequately to reap the technologyís benefits and satisfy the customers. Thus, these types of tours must satisfy the customer and bring profitability to the business.
If you can travel now despite the pandemic, be sure to take safety measures and follow the health and safety guidelines of the place you are planning to visit.
Consult with a travel and tours agent for additional information about virtual tours and how these tours may help you plan your next travel destination.
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