25 Jan 2018

Virtual reality is bringing “try before you buy” to travel - and that’s a good thing!

So I’m not a gamer in any way, shape or form but I’m a huge fan of Virtual Reality (VR) especially travel VR. It’s the single most immersive experience to have, without actually physically being there.  

I got my Oculus Rift for the experiences, I’ve always wanted to climb Mt Everest (ok as a far-flung fantasy) so I climbed Mount Everest using my Oculus, next best thing right... I started at Basecamp, traversed the terrifying Khumbu Icefalls, scaled Lhotse Face, ascended Hillary Step and finally getting to the top, I planted my flag, and conquered the summit of Everest. I actually felt euphoric, I was in awe at the dazzling beauty that surrounded me. It is truly a spectacular experience, but I know for damn sure then and there that I NEVER ever want to climb Mount Everest for real... as in EVER!

Some may feel inspired to climb it after experiencing it in VR, but for me the reality of doing that made me realise I would rather spend my holiday on something less way less taxing as I would have flunked out after basecamp. I have no Shame admitting that. 

This is where VR and travel really work well together - it’s all in the pre-planning. Getting to try before you buy works really well for me, because I’m a planner, I don’t like surprises, I’m very particular and I know what I like and want from a holiday. After abandoning the Everest pipe dream with haste, I moved on to Alaska. So, we’re planning on going there in the summer. My husband, daughter and I are trying to decide between a couple of things, do we want to do a helicopter flight to the Mendenhall glacier or spend the day in Juneau. Through google earth VR on the Oculus we were able to fly over the glaciers and teleport down on the ground and see the Alaskan villages. After doing so we unanimously decided to go to Mendenhall glacier. Similarly, we’re trying to decide when we get to Vancouver if we should spend a few days in Whistler or Victoria. Though VR we could go and see both these places to get a little taste of each and decide which one we like the most. So, we’re still yet undecided on that one but you get my drift. You can actually go and see where you’re going, how far away it is, look all around you in 360 degrees and decide if you want to go there before spending the money and it’s just so damn cool. 

There are many travel experiences available on the Oculus from the Grand Canyon, Safari, travel VR, Gala see the world, Through the ages America’s national parks, Bear island, Google earth VR and this list is just set to get longer. Many of the tourist boards and hoteliers such as Best Western and Marriott and even airliners like United Airlines and Etihad are doing VR, so that holiday makers can experience first-hand what the hotel room or cabin is like before they book. 
I’d expect that airlines that have a captive audience with their travellers flying from point A to point B would be capitalising on VR as a tool to sell travel content. Although in fairness even I couldn’t handle VR for a long haul flight, I find I need a break after around 30min, however it’s still a great unique opportunity that remains untapped. 

There are currently 3 mainstream tethered headsets on the market PlayStation VR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift (the Godfather of VR). There are also many mobile VR - like Google Cardboard, Daydream View or Samsung Gear VR.
Although I have to say the mobile VR, in my opinion, is no match to tethered in any way shape or form, these are more accessible to the general consumer. The second generation of VR is already on its way, Standalone VR is the next step, removing the PC (or the smartphone, for that matter) from the equation entirely. 

So I simply cannot talk about VR without talking briefly about Augmented Reality (AR). While VR is fully immersive and the best tool for holiday planning, similarly the best tool for “on the go” travel is AR or quite frankly a future of Mixed Reality, where these two ecosystems coexist.... is where I see things heading. 
AR enhances one’s current perception of reality. So for starters, it’s more socially acceptable, you still see your environment and the world around you, you can simply enhance it.

So an example of AR is getting translations from Google Translate by point your camera phone at a foreign sign and it translates it into a language of choice, other examples include getting directions and travel information on the go. We actually use AR very frequently today and for many years.
There are so many variants of AR rendering and displays from heads up displays, head mounted displays (HMD’s), optical projection systems, and handheld devices.

AR and mixed reality will continue to get more advanced with better gesture and voice control and they will become more affordable, beyond just handheld devices which we’re all so familiar with today but eventually become mainstream via HMD’s.

Magic Leap have also finally revealed their long awaited mixed reality goggles, Magic Leap One, in the last few days (to be released in 2018) – which is a bridge between the HoloLens and the Meta 2 - and I cannot wait to get my hands on a pair in 2018 - so long as they’re not the same price point as the HoloLens.

In the near future augmented reality / mixed reality will dominate our everyday lives and the lives of the traveller, and I for one cannot wait! 

Now at TTE this year I’m excited to say that we have some VR pods where you can come and personally experience some travel VR applications in action, come and let your mind be blown away!