The future has arrived, and it's changing how tourism and hospitality brands engage with their current and potential guests.

Hotel Technology Goes Virtual, Improving Customer Experience

The Workplace Today Technology & Innovation

Virtual reality hotel technology is changing how tourism and travel brands engage with guests, taking customer experience to a brand-new level.

When the New York Times is providing virtual reality (VR) experiences to its newspaper readers by sending out free cardboard viewers and creating a series of VR shorts, you know that science fiction has caught up to real time. VR has infiltrated hotel technology, too. The future has arrived, and it’s changing how tourism companies and hotel brands engage with their current and potential guests.

VR technology isn’t new; it’s actually been around since the 1950s. But now it’s taking off and, while it’s an expensive technology, competition among VR tech companies is quickly bringing costs down.

Virtual reality is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment experienced through sights and sounds, in which one’s actions help determine what happens in that environment. It’s huge these days and it’s only getting bigger as seen by Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift, a leading virtual reality company that raised more than $2 million through crowdfunding.

VR in Hotel Technology

Marriott Hotels is one travel company on the forefront of VR with its Marriott Teleporter. These are space-age-looking walk-in capsules that “teleport” potential customers wearing VR gear to other Marriott locations around the world. The immersive 4D VR travel experience lets you experience Hawaii, complete with the wind in your hair, the sun warming your face and even ocean spray. Just seconds later, you could be dangling over the edge of a high building in London.

At select hotels last year, Marriott’s innovative hotel technology included an in-room VR travel experience called “VRoom Service.” Guests could order a portable VR kit to be delivered to their room, and then put on the headset and headphones to virtually experience three different “VR Postcards.” These allowed them to spend a few minutes following a real traveler on a journey to a unique destination, such as Chile’s Andes mountains, the crowded streets of Beijing, or a Rwanda ice cream shop. The company is gathering data and guest feedback on its VR experiments and says it’s determining how best to evolve or expand its offerings.

Best Western Hotels and Resorts is also jumping into the VR world by partnering with Google to produce the “Best Western Virtual Reality Experience.” This VR video goes beyond photos and descriptions of room options by allowing customers to sit at home before booking and touring guests rooms, hotel lobbies, pools and other amenities at any North American Best Western. The video uses 1.7 million photos of the company’s 2,200 North American hotels, Google Street View images and other narration and music. It can be viewed using Google Cardboard or a smartphone.

Virtual Tourism Takes Off

Radisson Hotels reports that hotels offering virtual tours see 135 percent online revenue increases. One of the first tourism agencies in North America to create a VR experience was Destination British Columbia. The tourism board spent $500,000 creating a virtual reality program called The Wild Within VR Experience. It was shot near the Great Bear Rainforests off the northern tip of Vancouver Island with HD Go-Pro cameras mounted to a backpack and a drone, and it’s viewed by wearing Oculus Rift VR headgear and headphones. The new Oculus Rift headset technology, which was created for immersive game play, not only gives the sense that you’re flying over the British Columbia coastline, but also lets you experience the scents of cedar and pine.

Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts posts new VR tours of its destinations and iconic hotels every week. Its website notes that you can watch the immersive 360-degree videos on a computer, or download the movie and watch it using any Oculus headset for the fully immersive VR experience.

Will VR continue spreading throughout the travel and tourism industry? Very likely, but its breakthroughs in hospitality are already changing the way hotels interact with their guests and market their unique offerings.

Leslie Lang
Leslie Lang

Leslie Lang is an award-winning freelance writer in Hawaii who writes articles, blog posts, white papers, reports, books and other content about the hospitality, tourism and travel industries. She writes for trade and consumer magazines, brands, and marketing and communications agencies.