In the next several years, virtual reality (VR) is expected to see massive adoption. According to Digi-Capital, VR is predicted to grow into a US$30 billion industry by 2020. Already, a number of large and small hospitality brands are utilizing this new technology to reach and engage guests. But what does this look like? And what hospitality innovation might this lead too?
The current state of VR
Today, hotels are primarily using virtual reality in two ways—to drive brand engagement through immersive travel experiences and to showcase their properties.
At the forefront of this VR push is Marriott. Last year, the hotel chain toured the country with VR headsets that let viewers walk Hawaiian beaches and explore London’s Tower 42. More recently, Marriott announced that guests at its New York City and London locations can order VR headsets to their rooms, where they can view VR experiences of three exotic locations.
At the other end of the spectrum is Shangri-La Hotels and New York City’s Ludlow Hotel. Shangri-La and Ludlow both created virtual reality experiences of their properties that allow potential guests see what it would be like to stay at their locations.
Steven Taylor, Shangri-La’s chief marketing officer, recently said that his company started to utilize VR because “virtual reality is on the cusp of transforming the way we do business.”
Taylor added: “The virtual reality videos are essentially a two-minute tour, but these can actually be split into mini experiences that showcase the destination, that showcase our guest rooms, that showcase the restaurants. I think the opportunities here are quite literally endless.”
Some of the endless possibilities might include:
A virtual concierge. Guests expectations have shifted in the past several years. They now expect a higher level of service. One way to provide that service is through a knowledgeable concierge who can recommend activities.
This concept can be combined with VR to create a virtual concierge that allows guests to not only hear and read about services, but experience them firsthand.
Guests interested in spa services, for example, could consult with the virtual reality concierge and be provided with a VR experience of various spa amenities or spa services. A guest looking to make dinner reservations could have an inside look at hotel or nearby options.
There are many ways hotels might implement this service. Hotels could have a VR concierge station in their lobby, where guests could use a VR headset as need. Hotels could also make a VR app available that would work in conjunction with a guest’s smartphone and an inexpensive headset such as Google Cardboard.
Virtual attractions. By combining the concept of Marriott’s VR exploration applications and a virtual concierge, hotels could create a host of content that highlight prominent features and experiences within a given area.
Guests could use virtual reality headsets to preview local landmarks and entertainment. Imagine allowing guests to preview Broadway shows through virtual reality to help them determine which tickets to buy, or to participate in brief tours of several local attractions to help determine where they would like to spend their time sightseeing.
Providing guests virtual reality access to local destinations could be an amenity to business travelers who may not have time to experience these destinations otherwise. Guests also could be given access to virtual reality tours of other hotel properties to get them thinking about future travels.
And as virtual reality increases in popularity, hotels likely will have more access to virtual reality content. We soon may see sponsored virtual reality content that hotel guests would have access to.
Virtual conferences. Outside of leisure travelers, hotels could also create VR experiences for business travelers—especially around conferences.
From a room equipped with virtual reality headsets, conference speakers could illustrate their presentations with VR. A doctor could walk a conference audience through a new procedure, or an architect could provide a tour of a planned building or development with the help of virtual reality.
Virtual reality also could provide access to a conference taking place across the country or across the world. Companies could use virtual reality-equipped conference facilities at a nearby hotel to cut costs: Employees could use virtual reality headsets to access long-distance conferences, saving on travel and lodging expenses.
The future of virtual reality
Technology experts are touting virtual reality as the next breakthrough technology. As the technology becomes more widely adopted, hotels will need to not only understand how VR is being used, but also, how it could be implemented. This includes experimenting with new concepts such as a virtual concierge or virtual attractions.
Contributed by Abi Mandelbaum, co-founder and CEO, YouVisit, New York City