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04 May 2017

BY Matthew Parsons

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Why virtual reality is a perfect fit for travel

Virtual reality is travel’s natural friend,” declares Alistair Weaver, founder and chief executive of Gaucho Productions.

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Virtual reality is a “new narrative” for the travel industry

While Gaucho has previously focused on 360-degree and “mixed reality” content for the motor industry – most recently for Ferrari – a project for Mark Warner Holidays earlier this year has opened his eyes to the possibilities within the travel industry.

 

The winter wonderland setting and slopes of Val d’Isere formed the setting for a short Mark Warner Holidays promotional video, commissioned by technology companies Tigerbay and Mesmerise. Over two days, Weaver and colleague Eva Ticha filmed Mark Warner’s Chalet Hotel Le Val D’Isere and the surrounding slopes.

 

The four-minute video (below), presented by Weaver, allows viewers to immerse themselves in the holiday – with filming on a special 360-degree rig consisting of three GoPro cameras allowing viewers to turn their head in any direction to explore their holiday environment.

 

 

“From a presenting point of view, it gives you so much more in the storytelling. You can stand on a balcony and look out over Val d’Isere, then turn around and look through the window. It’s an immersive experience. VR lets you dip into that, and takes you away from it all.”

 

Technology company Tigerbay, which provides systems for the likes of Beachcomber Tours, Skiworld and Simpson Travel, believes VR will prove to be a useful selling tool for agents in the near future. Tigerbay showcased the VR video at Travel Technology Europe earlier this year and managing director Carl Morgan said there was a lot of interest. “Our project, in its current iteration, allows the user to ‘road test’ their holiday in a way still images simply cannot,” Morgan says. “As the technology advances, however, we can see such videos becoming integrated into the booking process, enabling consumers to select room types, add-ons and other ancillaries from within the video experience.”

 

“You can imagine filming on safari, all those noises and sights as you look around you. When you wear the headset, you go into a different place – it’s more immersive.”

 

The storytelling technique is becoming increasingly relevant as more VR headsets come on to the market. Although Google Cardboard has been around for several years now, its latest Daydream headset is, according to industry pundits, severely underpriced at £69, and offers a more comfortable experience, with a hand controller included. Meanwhile, Samsung offers the Gear headset for its phones at £80 – its advantage being that the headset works with a wide range of affordable Samsung phones.

 

Meanwhile, VR is gaining traction rapidly in the gaming industry as console manufacturers provide headsets. Indeed, Christmas is being predicted as a tipping point for VR, with household penetration set to rocket.

 

Travel beyond the slopes

After his time on the slopes, Weaver says his company is looking more closely at the travel sector. “With travel it’s all about the experience, about seeing something wondrous. We’re able to put you in the African bush rather than just giving the cameraman’s view of it.

 

“You can imagine filming on safari, all those noises and sights as you look around you. When you wear the headset, you go into a different place – it’s more immersive.”

 

He agrees that travel agencies of any size should consider an in-store headset, to offer customers a more sensory-laden taste of what they can expect on their holiday. Already Thomas Cook has been offering clients VR videos in its concept stores in the UK.

 

However, immersing customers comes at a cost although agents should be able to access content produced by operators. Using the Mark Warner trial as an example, two days may have been spent filming, but days of preparation are needed pre-visit to lay out the storyboard and so on, while one week of post-production work can be spent finalising the video to ensure everything appears seamless.

 

“The challenge with VR is that you see everything. For example, in a hotel room, if there’s a bit of shabby painting, you see it. You need to think about everything around you,” Weaver notes. “However, skiing is good for VR as the surface is consistent,” he adds.

 

“What VR has done is put more onus on pre-planning and post-production. It’s technical – you need a clear plan. You need to have a script nailed. What was nice with Mark Warner was that we had a clear brief, between what Mark Warner, Mesmerise and Tigerbay wanted to achieve, we had enough to turn that into a new narrative.”

 

While all good agents already know how to bring the holiday to life for a customer, the “new narrative” that VR provides clearly adds an extra dimension to the selling process. Rather than a “natural friend”, VR may just turn out be travel’s best friend.

 

Shoot like a pro: Alistair Weaver’s top tips

Shoot like a pro: Alistair Weaver’s top tips

1 Plan…
Work with the production company on a script and storyboard to lay the groundwork to avoid problems during the live filming.

 

2… but be agile

Also have faith in the production team to let them tell the story too as they have the experience in filming virtual reality. Factor in flexibility to ensure that both sides are comfortable.

 

3 Distribute

After the video is produced, make the most of it. Facebook and YouTube can display 360-degree videos, so upload the content to your website and share links. Also offer the original file as a download so those with more powerful headsets, such as Oculus Rift, can view it in even better quality.

VR headsets round-up

VR headsets round-up

£12: Google Cardboard
Works with most phones with screen size up to six inches.

£70: Google Daydream View

Works with high spec, and pricey, Android phones such as Huawei Mate 9 Pro, ZTE Axon 7 and Google’s Pixel. £80: Samsung Gear VR headset Works with Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S6 plus, S7 and S7 edge smartphones.

 

£500: Oculus Rift

Headset sensor, remote, cables, Xbox One controller and Lucky’s Tale game. A high-spec PC is needed.

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