We wrote briefly in April about the use of VR in tourism, but at the #Digital2016 conference this year (held at The Celtic Manor hotel near Newport) it was evident that this was a continuing trend worth making a note of, as the use of VR in tourism to promote destinations and accommodation is increasingly popular - particularly as a result of the ubiquity of objects like Oculus Rift or the Samsung Gear VR. It has wide applications beyond the gamer community.

Bronze Age artefacts at the British Library

This short video from the Marriott Hotel chain powerfully demonstrates how VR can expand the entire experience of travel. It's already being implemented in the cultural sector to enhance museum collections or exhibitions. The British Library, for example, used VR technology to launch a virtual reality weekend, in which participants were invited to enter a 4,000 year old roundhouse and view Bronze Age artefacts in the digital domain. It is one of the first museums in the world to implement the tech into its learner programme. But what can it mean for us?

Capture 1

VR in tourism

The fact is, VR can mean we have access to places before we even contemplate booking the ticket. It enables user immersion in another place: be that a different time, different country, or simply a different room. As an example, the Marriott Hotel chain followed three globetrotters on their adventures, and turned them into inspiring virtual trips that can be engaged with by anyone with a VR set. One of the first corporations to use virtual reality to promote tourism is Destination BC.








With Oculus Rift technology, they created their first video called The Wild Within VR Experience, and a 2D preview of the video is available on their YouTube channel.

The destination marketing video was filmed using a custom rig – built with a 3D printer, no less. Seven specialized HD cameras were mounted around the rig, allowing footage to be filmed by helicopter, by boat, by drone and on foot. The breathtaking views seen in the video were shot throughout the Great Bear Rainforest in beautiful British Columbia, Canada. [From the Wired article Will Oculus Rift Help or Hinder Traditional Tourism?]

It can be used, at its most basic level, simply to allow the potential guest to see what their room will look like. At its best, the potential is great. In fact, Facebook is about to launch a "360 Photos" feature, which will let you upload flat panoramas and will then change them into 360 photos for the News Feed. Users will then be able to drag and pan around the image, or look at them on the Gear VR.

VR in tourism

Kathy James of Sea Watch Foundation, swimming with dolphins using VR technology.

And yet. Is there really value to using this sort of technology? Could it not actually undermine the industry by supplying a cheap, valid alternative to actual travel? Certainly the experience will only improve the better the technology gets. Context is important, however: and whilst the visual imagery might be fantastic, it may not compensate for the lack of a warm sea breeze on your face, or the excitement of encountering the sights and smells of a new city.

At Discover Your Wales we are always experimenting with the use of new technology, including drone tech, 360° videos and, yes, virtual reality technology. We think it has great potential and is a remarkable way of allowing guests to engage with a venue or an experience beforehand. The industry is always in flux, and sometimes it's not only necessary to place yourself in a new stream, but to swim against the tide.

As accommodation agents, we also have a responsibility to the owners of our guest accommodation to make sure we are placing ourselves at the heart of the digital zeitgeist. And so far, the travel industry hasn't been adversely impacted by the adoption of new technologies. The argument could be made that increasingly, if you're not engaging with these technologies when your peers in the travel community are, you run the risk of appearing outdated at best and, at worst, having a decrease in the amount of guests you're attracting.

If you're an accommodation owner in Wales and you're interested in some of the ideas here, feel free to drop us a line at info@discoveryourwales.com for more information.

Image taken by Keri Thomas for Discover Your Wales. All rights reserved. ©

With grateful thanks to Kathy James of Sea Watch Foundation and Naturebites.