One aspect of the study was to investigate the influence of VR on the tourist’s information search process within the customer buying cycle. The results of this research can to a large extent confirm the previous scientific findings. Referring back to the scientific statements of Buhalis (1998) and Fritz et al. (2005), VR guarantees a faster and more interactive information search process. Thus, according to the perceptions of the participants of this research framework, VR provided them with a more reliable, interactive and redundant information search process in fast way compared to the promotional brochure.
In relation to this, the research findings confirm the statements by Cheong (1995) and Hyun & O’Keefe (2012) that VR reduces elements of uncertainty and the intangible nature of tourism products in a better way, as it supplies tourists with plentiful information, compared to traditional promotional material. Additionally, due to these plentiful information, tourists are able to create more realistic expectations compared to a brochure.
Furthermore, the results confirm the study of Suh & Lee (2005) arguing that VR provides consumers with high media richness, interactivity and telepresence. The results have revealed that the quality of the provided information was higher than in the case of the brochure. Additionally, it has been demonstrated that multiple senses such as vision and hearing are stimulated since the information is presented in an interactive way.
Comparing the theoretical findings of Suh & Lee (2005) to the results of this study, it can also be affirmed that three main dimensions such as cognitive, affective and conative were stimulated. The VR video permitted to see realistic images of Dubrovnik from different angles and distances. Furthermore, the participants could adjust from which angle to explore the destination what permitted a higher interactivity that in its turn enhanced the consumer learning process, which confirms studies of Suh & Lee (2005) and Zarzuela et al. (2013). Furthermore, the VR video strongly affected the sense of “being there” (telepresence) as soon as the participants stated that for a moment they felt like being in Dubrovnik.
It would be also interesting to point out that the video contains realistic images of the place, such as for example, the rain what is normally avoided in traditional promotional materials. Meanwhile the participants of the treatment group were having fun seeing how the rain drops were flying into them, some participants of the control group found that the rain was not very positive for the destination image.
The second aim of this study was to analyse the influence of VR on the customer decision-making process. The findings have revealed that VR does have a positive influence on the later. The VR video provided the participants with a better information supply and permitted to pre-experience the destination. Consequently, they could explore and experience the destination facilities, weather and atmosphere in more depth as well as in advance, as proposed by Bruce (2016), Cheong (1995) and Chiou et al. (2008). Hence, the research findings confirm the scientific statements of Cheong (1999) in Huang et al. (2010), Williams & Hobson (1995) and Zarzuela et al. (2013) that tourists – after seeing VR as promotional material – are in a better position to take the decision about visiting the destination or not. This is due as tourists can create more realistic expectations based on a VR video as promotional material compared to watching a brochure.
The findings of this study also confirm the statements of Cheong (1995) that VR increases the actual desire to visit the place. Thus, the participants expressed not only a higher desire to visit Dubrovnik, but also argued to have a clearer perception of the place, hence, a high-quality destination image. It could lead to a more rational decision from the customer’s side and minimise the risk related to high expectations.
Finally, VR has shown to evoke more emotions in the customer’s mind. Thus, the participants not only were watching or hearing to the video, but they were also moving or sometimes jumping (e.g. to avoid the rain) what can also confirm that they were more immersed and involved in the experience. Additionally, the results confirm that the treatment group was more touched emotionally what could affirm the stimulation of more senses.
The findings of this research suggest some useful implications for destinations. In first place, the use of VR could provide future tourists with a more reliable, faster, and more interactive information and, in this way, influence the tourist’s information process. This kind of information permits to pre-experience the destination and create realistic expectations about the place. Thus, tourists are in a better position to take a rational decision whether to travel to the destination or not.