“Virtual Reality” is one of the hot buzz-word expressions for sales and marketing professionals in the tour and travel industry—especially for international markets, where its 360-degree imagery speaks far more effectively than any language—and it will be on full display at IPW, where it first made an appearance two years ago in Orlando.
One challenge for those who seek to employ the technique is that, since it has come upon the marketplace, there are few in the industry who understand how it works and, at the same time, how to work it. One of those who do know is Nathan Claycomb, business development manager, Sight & Sound Theatres (one is located in Lancaster County, Pa. and the other is in Branson, Mo.), producers of epic, multimedia biblical drama-musicals. He discussed the subject at NAJ’s recent RTO Summit East in New York.
Claycomb (above), who developed a considerable bank of knowledge in stage, sound and performing arts technology before shifting into sales and marketing, explained the new Virtual Reality (VR) technology and how it helps to market the Sight & Sound product, which includes one of the largest stages in the world, a 300-foot wraparound structure whose depth and reach cannot be conveyed by photos and/or conventional videos alone—and still make sense to international tour operators. Right now, Sight & Sound enjoys healthy international visitor numbers from five key source markets, (Canada, Puerto Rico, the UK, Brazil and South Korea), but hopes to use VR as it expands its market reach.
The Inbound Report followed along as Claycomb walked the RTO Summit audience through the basics of VR—from the beginning.
What is Virtual Reality? VR means computer generated or visually captured physical environments experienced remotely, without being physically present
How did it start? Accounts of its origins vary, but researchers agree the birth of VR dates back to the early 1800’s, specifically, with the arrival of the stereoscope in 1838.
What are some of its uses? VR is now used for viewing movies, experiential learning, gaming and, of course, tourism promotion
How does VR contrast with, or complement, augmented reality (AR)? First, augmented reality is a live view of something physically present whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sound, video or graphics. It is generally experienced through a hand-held mobile device, but goggle integration does not exist. Mixed reality, or MR, is the combination of virtual environment and real environment where users able to manipulate the virtual objects as well.
What prompted Sight & Sound to explore the use of VR? “We had a problem. We are re-branding and, at the same, needed a new booth,” said Claycomb. “For decades, we’ve been telling the Sight & Sound story. Of late, we’ve been using iPad videos. Since our product is an experience, the best way to promote it is to have buyers there. So, how do we give everyone a Fam tour? The answer is: We bring the theatre to them virtually. Words paint a picture, but virtual reality paints the picture for us, freeing our imaging to make us part of the picture.”
“Of course, we met with our brand/marketing team to develop our VR product together—collaboration is essential to having VR achieve your desired outcome. We now have a virtual Fam tour. It’s the main difference between our participation in the RTO Summit West in 2016 and 2017.”
The benefits of VR in Sales? “It equips you with a virtual Fam tour; it immerses others in your experience; it brings with it the power of suggestion; it gives you the ability to integrate existing content into your website and social media; and it now has greater reach than ever before–VR users are almost doubling year over year, with the number of users now at 20 million-plus.” And, of course, for early adopters like Claycomb, it is a fun and unusual novelty.
Above: Chinese tour operators experiencing Sight & Sound VR presentation at 2017 Active America China in Portland.
What about the Cost? While the advantages seem to far outweigh the disadvantages of using VR for sales and marketing, Claycomb acknowledged that a good VR product is not cheap. One can cut costs, however, by using still photos, foregoing any voice narration, using in-house talent to do video shots, etc.
Ultimately, the price of a well-done VR product—this includes cost of the per-hour cost of professional filming (this can range from $2,000 to $4,000 a day for on-set work) and editing measures out at $10,000 to $15,000 per minute of finished product. Describing the cost as an investment, Claycomb put the amount into perspective by pointing out that $15,000 is equal to the passengers in four tour buses spending $50 per person.
The future is closer than you think. Already, Claycomb said, pointing out that:
—Apple, Samsung, Google, Sony and Nintendo are working on VR products.
—One company (Navitaire) has just released the first VR search-and-booking experience exclusively for travel—VR may become the new tour operator catalogue
—The first VR/MR amusement park, Spaces, is now open in China
—As hardware costs come down, there will be more consumer ownership and product offerings will go beyond gaming.
—Thanks to the advent of Google Cardboard (above) and smartphones, the average consumer doesn’t have to purchase high-end headsets. Google’s Cardboard app has been downloaded about 10 million times.
—Vimeo is offering third party hosting, providing an affordable way to increase your reach with less financial investment and greater distribution potential; there is no need to self-host.
—Websites featuring VR/AR will win more audience attention that competitors.
And finally, Claycomb’s recommendations for sites to follow:
- Above Interactive: www.aboveinteractive.com
- 360 Labs (featured at RTO Summit West): www.360labs.net
- PGP Studios: www.pgpstudios.com
- YouVisit: www.youvisit.com
- World of VR Tourism News: http://www.sightseeingnewsandviews.com
† For the Inbound Report’s take on Sight & Sound Theatres based on a visit to one of its performances, check out:
NOTE: The Inbound Report will not be published next week; we’ll be in Washington, D.C., covering IPW. Our next publishing date is June 15th.