In order to contribute to the previously mentioned literature, an empirical research with a marketing perspective was conducted. The following research question was developed based on the elaborated literature review:
- Research Question: What influence does virtual reality have on the actual intention of tourists to visit a destination?
In combination to the above-mentioned research question, the following hypotheses are defined based on the literature to support the research question.
- Hypothesis 1: Virtual reality has a positive influence on tourist’s information search process within the customer buying cycle.
- Hypothesis 2: Virtual reality has a positive influence on tourist’s decision-making process within the customer buying cycle.
For answering the research question and to confirm the hypotheses, an experimental research approach was most appropriate one to conduct. The sample was selected using the total population sampling within a purposive sampling approach. The major criteria for the purposive selection were that the sample has never visited the destination before and that the sample belongs to Generation Y. Thus, due to the limitations of this research study, the total population is limited to Generation Y.
Generation Y, as well known as Millennials, were born between 1981 and 1999 (Bolton et al., 2013). Although criticism exists, that Generation Y may not be representative of general tourism customers, for this research study it was most appropriate to conduct research on Generation Y (Ok, Shanklin, & Back, 2008). First, Ashton & Kramer (1980) argue that students, which in this research are represented by Generation Y, are reasonable surrogates for customers in investigating the information search and decision-making process. Further, this generation is highly involved with the Internet and tech-savvy, as it is the first generation that has been living its entire life in the digital environment (Bolton et al., 2013; Murray, Toulson, & Legg, 2011; PrincetonOne, 2016). Moreover, Generation Y are the tourism customers of the future. As of 2020, Generation Y will represent half of the global workforce and will be the largest group of tourism customers (Elworthy, 2016). Additionally, Generation Y is a very optimistic and social group; they tend to easily get engaged with new cultures, traveling and exploring (PrincetonOne, 2016). Thus, it is important for destinations to investigate their future target group right now in order to prepare and adapt to their demand requirements.
From the total population, research subjects were selected and divided into two groups – the treatment and control group, with the purpose of making comparison between the two groups. The control group observed a traditional promotional material in form of a brochure, whereas the treatment group saw a virtual reality video of the selected destination. Hence, the virtual reality video and the brochure were the only materials used within this research. To make sure that the content of both promotional materials is consistent, first the VR video was selected and based on this the brochure was created. Additionally, both groups had the same amount of time (2 minutes) to observe the material. Furthermore, a questionnaire before and after seeing the promotional material was completed by every participant. The items for the questionnaire were elaborated based on the literature review as stated in Chapter 2. Therefore, it was possible to test the influence of promotional materials on the information search and decision-making process, thus, on the actual intention of tourists to visit the potential destination. It was decided to range the measures for the Likert Scales from totally agree (1) to totally disagree (5) as they are then related to the Austrian school grading system. In contrast, the quality of the promotional material was measured ranging from poor (1) to excellent (5) following common patterns for product ratings, e.g. using stars for online shopping.
Dubrovnik was selected as a destination to carry out the empirical research as described above. Croatian’s destinations tourist traffic overnight shows 10% in Zagreb in 2014, Split 18.3% and Dubrovnik 8.9% (Ministry of Tourism, 2014). The three tourist groups come from Germany 24.1%, Slovenia 10.2% and Austria 8.8% in 2014. As the statistics show, the main destinations are the northern and central cities of Croatia (Ministry of Tourism, 2015). Therefore, promotion of the southern cities is crucial. In addition, Dubrovnik’s 360º video was of very good quality, not too long and packed with valuable information about the place.
Educational institutions were selected as research sites, as the likelihood to find participants which fit to the criteria was very high. In order to survey a diverse sample, the research was conducted on two research sites within Salzburg, namely FH Salzburg and Unipark Nonntal.
In order to ensure reliability of this research study, the research instruments were pre-tested with a pilot-study at FH Salzburg.