As VR becomes more pervasive, will we still desire to visit great architecture?
Have you ever visited Richard Meier’s Getty Center in Los Angeles? Oh, you must experience that museum and its surrounding grounds. As a work of architecture it is truly clinical. Have you ever walked through the streets of Old Jerusalem? Well, at least once in your life you should visit and feel its divine atmosphere.
We have all been on opposite sides of such conversations. Increasingly, the travel industry is using technology to exceed word-of-mouth persuasion with virtual reality immersion.
Big hospitality brands such as Marriott International have made investments in VR in recent years, partnering with Oculus Rift and Framestore to imagine the future of travel. On their “Travel Brilliantly” minisite, the global hotel chain touts how their fully immersive, 4D experience can teleport people “from London to Maui in 90 seconds.”
In September 2015, Marriott launched a service in London and New York that allows guests to order VR to their rooms. Created in collaboration with Samsung, the aptly named “VRoom Service” is a travel industry first. Surely no tourist staying in London would fancy visiting St Paul’s Cathedral from the comfort of their hotel room. Yet, Marriott is hoping that VR informs guests to make better travel decisions by experiencing their next vacation, while on their current one.
Why tell you about a place, when you can experience it right now. It sounds great on the surface, but there is still part of us that enjoys the thrill of discovering a place for the first time. Part of the joy of travel is the element of surprise and the knowledge of actually being there. Anyone who has ever sauntered the streets of Midtown Manhattan, and been impressed by the verticality of its urban landscape, or stood under the Arc de Triomphe, can tell you that. To experience these places in VR, even with the manufactured wind and rain, would not be the same. You cannot interact with people nor share the moment with those around you in real time. And the haptic technologies of VR still have to improve to make architectural elements, like walls and doors, feel convincing.
Though some people have their doubts about the success of VR for the travel industry, more professions are trying it out and a broader range of people are using it. The Consumer Technology Association estimates that 1.2 million VR headsets will be sold in the US this year alone.
However, as much as VR is emerging as a useful tool for the travel industry, computational requirements and costs are two things which hinder its widespread use. Most computers on the market today do not have the power to work VR.
Consumers who want to travel in VR now have to look to companies like Jaunt Studios in Palo Alto, California. The company was founded in 2013 on the idea of traveling, anytime, any place. To achieve this, Jaunt processes their VR content in a cloud computing system, making it scalable and more accessible. Those with Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear can download the Jaunt player and use the content library to go to historic locations, like the Dome of the Rock in Old Jerusalem.
Architectural heritage sites, which are some of the most visited in the world, could also benefit from VR. WoofbertVR gives people the chance to visit the world’s leading museums and experience “art virtually anywhere.” The most interesting aspect of Woofbert’s offering is the ability to recreate historic spaces by collecting millions of data points. UNESCO World Heritage sites could be recreated as they were originally built and ancient ruins could be resurrected in a virtual environment for people to visit.
And then there is YouVisit, a company with the mission to make the world accessible through VR and to “inspire exploration.” On their website, you can go through the streets of Rome, visit the Chateau de Versailles, see the Ayutthaya Historical Park, or stroll Washington D.C.’s National Mall.
VR is not hurting the travel industry at all, but it has become a marketing tool. It is a new type of immersive marketing, enticing people to travel. You may have been there and you may have done that – in virtual reality. The travel industry is expecting that your virtual trip will turn into a real one.
Words: Phil Roberts