It is a very unusual scene to observe. Wearing a massive pair of goggles, a young couple sits together on the couch and, with mouths wide open, marvels at invisible sights. Using bulky Oculus Rift headsets, the two of them are taking a virtual trip to London, checking out Tower Bridge, and watching the sun set in the British capital – all while they sit in their living room.
Virtual reality promises to completely revolutionize the tourism industry. With a VR headset and a database of destinations, travel agencies can offer their customers much more than just pretty pictures in a glossy brochure and some nice words. Instead, they give potential travelers the chance to virtually explore locations and get a first-hand experience of the hotel room, the beach, the deck of the cruise shop, or the local restaurant.
On a second screen, far away from the couch, the travel agent sees what their customers see. This enables them to point out particular features – such as the children’s play area or the buffet – and generate more business. Does the virtual room look a bit too small? With just a click, the headset will show what is on offer if you upgrade to the next category.
The industry association Bitkom is convinced of the benefits. "Digitization is driving radical change in travel and tourism right now – and virtual reality is one of the top megatrends," says Bitkom CEO Dr. Bernhard Rohleder. "Thanks to VR technology, future vacationers will be able to get a good impression of locations before they travel, helping them choose the ideal destination."
Many businesses seem to share Rohleder's enthusiasm. Bitkom surveyed 105 companies in the tourism industry and found that three quarters of them (74 percent) believe that, in 2025, it will be common to explore destinations with VR headsets before a vacation. A study by the management consulting firm PwC backs up this prediction. Werner Ballhaus, Head of Technology, Media, and Telecommunications at PwC Germany, says, "I believe that virtual reality will have already conquered the mass market within ten years."
One company that is working on this is realities.io. The startup transports the world’s most interesting locations to VR headset displays, making it possible to freely roam real places around the globe within a virtual environment. Dominic Escofier, one of the company’s founders, explains, "We use a technique called photogrammetry that accurately models locations down to the smallest details, such as footprints in dust or the mortar between the sandstone blocks of a medieval castle."
Travel company Thomas Cook has recognized the trend and equipped 880 of its German branches with VR headsets. Customers can use these to pay a virtual visit to 50 holiday destinations and hotels. And the company has already announced that it has plans to extend this capability to more branches. The videos offer a 360-degree experience and are between one and a half and four minutes long. But the possibilities of virtual reality don’t end there. In addition to the chance to preview real-world locations, the technology also opens completely new horizons and destinations. It will soon be possible for tourists to travel to imaginary or lost worlds.
Fancy a walk through the lost city of Atlantis? Ever wanted to see ancient Pompeii before it was wiped out by Vesuvius? Or how about a trip to Mars? With the right software, this could all be possible – even time travel could become a (virtual) reality. The only thing missing is the sand between your toes and the wind in your hair that you get on a real walk on the beach. Even the best hardware cannot replicate these experiences… yet.
Driven by the likes of Facebook and Google, virtual reality will finally be able to live up to its enormous potential. The technology seems set to change the future – both in our day-to-day lives and in business. See and feel it for yourself at CeBIT 2017: in the AR & VR Area in Hall 17, at the startup showcase SCALE11 , and at the CeBIT Global Conferences in the LOFT in Hall 8.