This time we are not presenting you a new VR travel related app or any new developments regarding VR and tourism. This time we traveled for the purpose of VR. We went to Vienna to visit vrei – the first Virtual Reality lounge in Austria. There we met Florian Sam and Timon Liebau, the founders of vrei. They shared their knowledge, experiences and thoughts with us and we are happy to share our experience from our visit at vrei now with you.
The name vrei contains the abbreviation ‘vr’ for Virtual Reality. Moreover, it relates to ‘frei’, which is the word ‘free’ in German. vrei is a lounge/café/bar that aims at familiarizing people with the technology of VR. As it is hard to explain VR with only words and a lot of people do not know about VR yet or they do not have any access to it, vrei made it to their mission to make VR easily accessible. Right now, customers have the possibility to test mobile solutions like Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR, as well as the tethered device HTC Vive and really soon also the Oculus Rift. vrei provides a place for people to experience VR, be it on the B2B or the B2C level.
For the B2B segment, vrei offers the possibility to do VR events at their location. They provide equipment as well as content (or establish contacts to content producers). For the B2C segment, Flo and Timon explain that they are reaching especially the early adopters with their offer. The main target group is between 25 – 35 years old and male. However, they already had a 93 year old women who tested for two hours all the available content and hardware devices and was absolutely excited about her VR experience. This proves that there are no age or gender boundaries to the technology of VR. vrei offers VR experiences for free (The Lab, TheBlu) and also a pay-to-play option (Space Pirate Trainer).
We discussed with the two experts the importance of storytelling in VR and agreed that this topic is still in its early stages of development. Some VR content, such as documentations for example, does already have certain aspects of storytelling. However, most VR content, especially when it comes to (tourism) marketing, deals with only one video from one angle. Timon argues that for storytelling in VR it is important, to not start right away with the story. Viewers need at least 20 to 60 seconds to acclimate themselves in the virtual environment. So far, the Wild Within by the destination British Columbia is probably the only tourism related VR video that touches the aspect of storytelling and includes (to a limited extent) interactivity. We are really curious how this topic will develop in general, but also how it will find its way into tourism marketing and promotion.
Furthermore, we also discussed about the difficulties of producing content in VR. The available technology is still quite expensive as well as it is also still in its infancy, time-consuming, and requires a certain level of knowledge. 3D audio will also get more and more important, as with a regular stereo signal it won’t be possible to provide the viewer with a certain level of immersion and as a conclusion the desired level of presence. Moreover, it is also a relevant factor for storytelling because it can help to guide the viewer. Timon is convinced that the future of virtual environments will be photogrammetry, as the necessary software tools will get affordable for the main stream and from a technical point of view it is not too complicated.
Photogrammetry “involves using images from a conventional digital camera to create three-dimensional scenes, exploiting the differences in photos taken from different positions and angles” (Steam Community, 2015). This possibility offers great potential, also to the tourism industry. With the usage of already taken pictures, it is possible to reconstruct heritage sites, historical exhibition pieces or even cities. Read here about an example and the possible advantages as well as threats of this technology: “RecoVR Mosul – a collective reconstruction”. Towards the end of our visit at vrei, we had the opportunity to test out such a virtual environment that was created with the help of photogrammetry – a courtyard in Venice, also part of The Lab. It was an incredibly detailed simulation that definitely supported the level of presence.
As a last point, we also talked about the future of VR in tourism. VR will definitely influence tourism in one way or another. According to Timon, “everybody who has tried out an HMD, figures out quite easily and fast that this technology is not restricted to gaming”. At one point it will be the question, if somebody is able to compile all available tourism content, so that the user can check out all hotels and destinations via only one platform. We thought this is a really interesting idea. Imagine, if wherever you would like to travel, you could find all the necessary information in VR on only one website or application.
It was a great opportunity to visit vrei and the team behind it. It was a fantastic experience to dive into the virtual environments of The Lab and TheBlu with the HTC Vive and experience VR at vrei. We really appreciate that Flo and Timon shared their knowledge and insights with us. If you have any thoughts about the topics mentioned, feel free to share them with us.
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