Virtual Reality: An Innovative Sneak Preview for Destinations

Virtual Reality in Tourism Research Written by: 
V.Driescher, A.Lisnevska, D. Zvereva, A. Stavinska & J. Relota

1        Introduction

Innovations in technology play an essential role in modern society. Especially, changes and developments within information and communication technologies (ICTs) are widely discussed in detail. This is due, as those technologies have the potential to change the world constantly and to create a strong impact on general business practices and strategies, as well as humanity as a whole (Buhalis & Law, 2008; Guttentag, 2010). Virtual reality (VR) is one of those emerging innovations in ICTs that could change some habits of today’s life and fundamental business strategies (Gabisch & Gwebu, 2011).

VR is defined by Guttentag (2010, p. 638) as “the use of a computer-generated 3D environment – called a virtual environment (VE) – that one can navigate and possibly interact with, resulting in real-time simulation of one or more of the user’s five senses”. Basically, VR is a new form of introducing a sensory input that allows users to experience the reality more intensively, as well as, it is a new way of representing information of a product or service. VR can be used within a lot of different areas and for different purposes, such as: for training, for educational purposes, for entertainment and media, within the healthcare industry, within the architecture industry, within the tourism industry and many more (Mazuryk & Gervautz, 1996; Virtual Reality Society, 2016). According to Guttentag (2010), VR may be especially valuable for the tourism industry within the following six areas: planning and management, marketing, entertainment, accessibility, education and heritage preservation. Furthermore, the use of VR may be especially beneficial for destinations. Destinations are seen in the literature as the core of the tourism industry, as they combine all products, experiences and services provided locally to customers (Buhalis, 2000; Neuhofer, Buhalis, & Ladkin, 2012). Additionally, they are seen to be difficult to market and manage due to the complex relationships between all involved stakeholders (Buhalis, 2000; Neuhofer et al., 2012).

However, in order to remain competitive in the long-term, to attract a wider audience and to satisfy tourists’ demands and expectations, destinations have to integrate new technologies, have to improve their interactive content within the marketplace and have to adjust their marketing strategies in general, as stated by Buhalis (1998), Chiou, Wan, & Lee (2008), Fritz, Susperregui, & Linaza (2005) and Pawaskar & Goel (2014). Furthermore, Neuhofer et al. (2012) and Pawaskar & Goel (2014) argue that for destinations it has become crucial to be more innovative to better differentiate their products from competitors and to create experiences with distinct values for tourists. Therefore, to develop a deeper understanding for VR and its benefits for destinations from a marketing perspective is necessary – by analysing the influence of VR on tourists’ actual intention to visit a destination. This research seeks to make a contribution to the existing literature by investigating with an experimental research approach if VR has a positive influence on tourists’ information search process and decision-making process within the customer buying cycle.

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