Virtual reality may be all about transporting users to alternative realities, but with analysts predicting that it will be a $150-billion industry by 2020, it offers enormous real world benefits for brands savvy enough to seize the opportunity.

Resorts and hotels are constantly innovating when it comes to selling their family packages and premium relaxation experiences. The growing availability of virtual reality creates new marketing and branding opportunities for the industry to offer cutting edge and deeply immersive ways to engage with customers.

VR as an Amazing Sales Tool

Selling a premium hotel room or holiday experience, or distinguishing it from rival offerings, is an increasingly challenging task for marketers and brands in the hospitality industry. The use of virtual reality can provide inspiration and innovation when selling hotel rooms or travel packages to travel agents, wholesalers, event planners and then on to consumers in increasingly competitive markets.

As part of new marketing and promotional initiatives, travel agencies, wholesalers and event planners can be provided with "VR kits." These give them access to hardware and custom software, beautifully designed and carefully branded, to create immersive experiences that can be used as powerful sales tools for direct customers. Rather than using increasingly intrusive marketing, brands can use VR and digital technology to create immersive marketing that enriches the customer experience.

Instead of providing customers with a traditional brochure or having them look through the same old promo video, a VR presentation or experience can provide a personalized and detailed tour of the resort, hotel, or an individual suite. These stamp an uninterrupted sense of the place on the customer and add to the sense of them being there, making sales conversion more likely.

As the use of VR becomes a more commonly accepted marketing tool in coming years, hotels will be able to share virtual experiences directly with customers. These will be shared via desktop or mobile app, social networks (YouTube or Facebook 360). Customers are already enjoying VR for sports and music events and sharing 360-degree clips with friends. Soon their holiday videos will also come in VR-format, and customers will expect the resorts to be promoting their destinations in a similar manner.

Also, in the near future, content can be viewed within a web browser, the forthcoming WebVR standard should vastly increase the use and acceptance of VR. Hotels and resorts could regularly update information pages with WebVR widgets to show off the latest rides, attractions and room improvements. A tour can help transport customers to these places and put them far closer to the reality than any traditional marketing.

If a user has no VR device to hand, then a standard smartphone can be used to move a 360-degree image around via touchscreen, or, on the desktop, a mouse can help them navigate around imagery. These VR images create a more powerful response than simple photos, generating a realistic sense of size and scale. They allow the viewer to get a close up look at their destination, to see what small details look like in a room or even what the view from their window will be.

A clever use of VR marketing can help revolutionize websites and make for interactive brochures. Physical VR booths can be used as sales tools in travel agents, or at tourism, wedding and other fairs. The use of booths themselves can generate news and press articles about the use of the technology.

VR Will Be the Future of Information and Entertainment

Virtual reality will also play a key role beyond the sales arena, entering hotels and resorts as both an entertainment and information service. Increasingly automated hotels already provide digital check-in, but a VR information desk linked to an AI concierge service can provide a guide to locations and events.

VR video booths can provide a tour of the resort, hotel, facilities and amenities, as well as nearby attractions including beaches, museums, restaurants, and shops. These will be increasingly useful for large resorts, providing detailed information on events, and where to eat and drink. They can also provide information on the local area with superior visuals to the likes of Google Maps, along with more understandable explanations of how to get there.

As part of the attraction, VR can be used as a relaxation and meditation tool for guests. In a spa lounge or cubicle, VR can provide pleasant, calming scenes to help guests unwind as they wait for a massage or spa session.

In the hotel room, either included or as a paid extra, they can provide entertainment with games, immersive experiences, or as a big-screen theatre for all members of the family. They can also act as an extra information point and create the perfect opportunity to showcase other hotels, resorts or products.

Travel businesses can also partner with their allied airlines or reward programs to offer future promotions and to cross-sell or upsell on their current vacations or trips.

There are huge opportunities within the hospitality sector for VR. The possibilities are really only limited by your imagination and the creativity of the agency you choose to be your partner and guide on this exciting journey into the virtual future.

Paulo Tromp
CEO and Creative Director - VRMADA