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16 Sep 2016
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Comment: It’s agents who should create a virtual reality

It was time for my quarterly haircut last week. The usual – a number three at the back and sides, and shorten the top to match.

Derek Jones Opinion
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A small confused child asks what it was like to really travel to places – you know, “before the masks”

Simple haircuts need simple tools, so my barber comes simply equipped with a comb and scissors, an electric trimmer and a hairdryer which, by the way, is not for drying – it’s for blowing any stray (mostly grey) hairs off my shoulders when he’s finished.

 

Notably missing from my barbers, from all barbers I think, are those hairdryers that look like someone’s taken the top half of an enormous Kinder Egg and attached it to a pole. You know the ones I mean? I don’t know if they still have them in hairdressers today. I associate them mostly with the 1960s; with black and white pictures of glamourous women sat together in rows, each with an oversized egg on their heads and a magazine in her lap. Maybe there was a time when they were commonplace in barbers as well (I’m thinking Liverpool circa 1978, at the height of the Kevin Keegan perm craze) but for the most part, I think the features and benefits of the bonnet hair dryer have only been fully appreciated by the female half of the population.

Which brings me (admittedly in a very round the houses sort of a way) to my point, which is this. Every time someone mentions virtual reality headsets in the same sentence as the future of travel – and people are doing this a lot lately – that old black and white picture immediately springs back into my mind, only now it’s a long row of people sat in a travel agency with shiny white oversized goggles strapped to their faces.

They’re sat facing a blank wall, neck muscles sagging as they try to take in the full glory of the virtual 3D Taj Mahal being beamed in 4K Ultra HD onto their straining, watery, bloodshot eyes. And outside looking in through the window is a small confused child, holding tightly to her grandparent’s hand and asking what it was like to really travel to places – you know, “before the masks”.

I exaggerate of course, but I do struggle to imagine the day when any sort of mechanical virtual reality will be a natural part of a retail experience. Great travel agents invite you to imagine yourself in your own perfect travel moment. They tell stories and add flavour, describe the atmosphere; the smells, the people and the sensations. The pictures we paint in our minds are always more powerful than those we see through our own eyes – that’s why watching a film after you’ve read the book is often a disappointment. Even our own travel memories are embellished and romanticised by our imagination.

A passionate travel expert can create a new, unique virtual reality for a customer. And they can do one other vital thing a virtual reality headset can’t – they can help the traveller to see themselves in the picture.

Derek Jones is managing director of Kuoni UK

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