Lonely Planet Writer

Virtual reality and new technologies increasingly a part of the travel industry

As technology impacts and changes the way people travel, many businesses are trying to predict how it will continue to influence the tourism industry in the future.

Some predict virtual reality will be used more and more in travel.
Some predict virtual reality will be used more and more in travel. Image by Sergey Galyonkin / CC BY-SA 2.0

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, recently predicted a rise in virtual travel while answering questions on his Facebook page, reports AFP.

Zuckerberg noted that just as we take photos and videos and post them on our social media platforms, eventually people will be able to capture 3D scenes that others will be able to see. It is perhaps unsurprising that the tech giant is predicting more and more of this kind of sharing, as last year, Facebook purchased Oculus, a virtual reality (VR) technology company.

While Zuckerberg predicts more individuals adapting the technology for travel, many companies are already experimenting with what it can do for their business.

Marriott Hotels has been trying out virtual reality experiences and has allowed guests at certain hotel locations to trial a VR headset. The company also unveiled a virtual travel content platform – called VR Postcards – which are immersive travel stories that follow a real traveller heading to a unique destination, such as the Andes Mountains in Chile, an ice cream shop in Rwanda or the streets of Beijing.

Some companies are using VR to entice would-be travellers to their product. Earlier this year, Carnival Cruises ran a promotion with AT&T using Samsung VR technology. They set up in 133 stores around America allowing people to have a virtual reality experience of what it’s like aboard one of their cruise ships. The company noted that it’s exploring how it could adopt VR into its sales as it could be used by travel agents to show to clients a prospective cruise experience.

VR has also been billed as the future for entertainment, and airlines have taken note. Qantas previously made Samsung Gear VR headsets available for some first class passengers.  The goal was to gauge whether VR entertainment impacted traveller’s experience on long-haul flights. They also partnered with the Australia’s Northern Territory tourism board to provide a 3D experience of Kakadu National Park.

In addition to VR, Barry Diller, the chairman of Expedia, recently said things like mobile, artificial intelligence and big data will impact the travel industry in the future, reports Skift. Diller was speaking at the World Travel & Tourism Global Summit earlier this month.

He noted that when it comes to artificial intelligence, it may take a generation or two until a true impact is felt, for better or for worse.

Developments, such as more and more robots in hospitality and tourism may be unsurprising to most consumers, and quite well received.

A recent Travelzoo survey of more than 6,000 travellers in Asia, Europe, North America and South America found about 80% of people feel robots will be a big part of their lives by 2020 and nearly two-thirds said they would be comfortable with using them in the travel industry.

Those efforts are already underway in certain places, as Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and KLM have been testing a robot designed to help passengers find their gates and Costa Cruises have a new multi-lingual humanoid robot that can give recommendations to travellers.

At a Hilton Hotel in Virginia, a new robot employee named Connie is able to tell guests about hotel features and local tourist attractions. The robot is Watson-enabled and is able to improve its recommendation as it interacts more with guests.

However, there is some good news for travellers who still enjoy a human touch, the Travelzoo survey noted that while people are open to the idea of more robots, most feel that a combination of robots and humans working together is the best solution.