During the research for this article, the author identified several additional uses of VR in tourism. This chapter highlights a selected few of these projects grouped by categories.
The Europapark theme park in Germany has opened a VR roller-coaster in 2015. Dubbed the Alpenexpress VR Ride, visitors can enjoy a four-dimensional ride through virtual worlds synchronized perfectly to the movement of the roller coaster with the help of their headsets (Europapark, n.d.). Alton Towers theme park in the UK is following a similar concept. In January 2016, they announced to the public a re-theme of their existing ride ‘Air’ to the new coaster ‘Galactica’, where visitors can fly through space. Both theme parks are taking advantage of the Samsung Gear VR to solve the issue of portability on the fast moving roller coasters (Smerdon, 2016).
The VOID is a theme park currently in testing phase that is entirely based on offering VR experiences. They are developing their own hardware components in order to offer un-tethered multiplayer experiences in multiple scenarios. They are offering full mobility in an actual physical space, where clients can, despite being immersed in the VR, interact with physical objects (The VOID, n.d.).
Another interesting project involving interaction with physical objects within the VE is from a Swiss company called Artanim. They are applying technology that “allows users to experience, physically interact, and collaborate in a virtual 3D environment” in Escape Room scenarios. In an escape room players have to collaborate in order to find the ‘exit’ (or solution) to a room (or puzzle) they are given (Nafarrete, 2016).
Disney® is also offering several VR attractions in its DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park area at DisneyWorld in Orlando. On their ‘Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride’ users are equipped with an HMD and step onto a motorcycle-type simulator to experience the flight on a magic carpet. Users have the chance to get creative when they design their own rollercoaster for ‘CyberSpace Mountain’. After their design is finished, they get to step into a simulator and experience their own creation in a 360-degree environment (Guttentag, 2010; Disney, n.d.).
Hospitality & Cruises
Several cruise lines have been offering virtual tours by means of 360-degree photos on their websites for a while, however, Azamara Cruises is one of the first ones offering a guided 360-degree video tour on their ships. In addition, they feature the contents of several shore excursions in their program in 360-degree videos (Azamara, n.d.). Other cruise companies are following suit and have started producing their own VR content of shore excursions for cruise passengers to enjoy.
Marriott International made headlines in 2014 when they presented newlyweds with some choices for their honeymoon with their ‘Teleporters’. The Teleporters are custom-built machines that immerse users with a commercial HMD, a tactile platform, wind machines and smells. On display were short destination clips of both Hawaii and London, followed by a virtual tour of Marriott properties in the respective destinations (Suciu, 2014; Parker, 2015).
In September 2015, Marriott International started two combined projects, the first one being VRoom Service and the second being VR Postcards. When clients decide to use the VRoom Service, a Samsung Gear VR HMD will be delivered to their hotel room for a 24 hour renting period. With the HMD they can then access different VR postcards, traveler portraits filmed by Marriott in different destinations, filmed with 360-degree video, offering a truly immersive and emotional experience to customers (Marriott, 2015).
The Radisson Blu Business Hotel in Hannover is the first VR hotel in Germany. They have captured VR content of their hotel and conference options to present to possible clients and partners during product presentations. Stating that the entire production was done in just a single day with costs being moderate, the hopes of the hotel management are to attract new target groups and tap into the numerous opportunities the new technology offers (Gastronomie-Hotellerie, 2016).
Other Applications of VR Technology
There are numerous travel businesses taking advantage of VR technologies, some start-ups even have business ideas based entirely on offering VR-based tourism services. An example for that is Georama, a service that connects a real tour guide with a real audience that watches the tour through a live feed over the internet. Viewers can even interact with the guides and ask specific questions while watching the live videos captured by the guides with either mobile phones, wearable cameras or 360-degree video setups (Georama, n.d.).
Another successful start-up is XplorIT. They offer virtual tours for destinations and attractions primarily based in the USA. Their tours are based on 360-degree photography with animated sequences in between pictures. Additionally, they offer a great degree of interactivity for viewers, as they can click on certain spots to receive more information about them (XplorIT, n.d.).
ThomasCook is using VR in selected travel agencies around Europe to showcase their own hotel properties and airline amenities. They recognize VR as a great way to showcase products to their clients that are based on experiences. In the future, they plan to roll out the technology in more locations with a more diverse content (ThomasCook, 2015; Parker, 2015).
Selected travel agencies of the TVG franchisor, a subsidiary of FTI Touristik, a tour operator in Munich, are increasingly implementing VR into their sales activities. They do not produce own content, but rather use curated content libraries provided to them via a content management system operator such as DiginetMedia.
Another start-up curating touristic content, specifically destination content, is called Ascape. They source high-quality VR content from their professional community and pay content providers a certain fee for the use of the material. Through a rigorous screening method, only the best (= visually stunning) content is featured (Ascape, n.d.).