Thomas Cook’s Try-Before-You-Fly Virtual Reality Tourism Would Be Even Better with Video Calling

Virtual reality is redefining tourism.

From a distance it’s hard to tell where the desert sands finish and the first stones of the great pyramids begin. Even from a dozen or so yards away it’s hard to tell, so completely does the ocean of brown wash over the base of these superstructures.

The temptation is strong to reach out and sweep away the sand, to immerse your hand in the grains–but this is only a video link so it’ll have to be your tour guide on the other end of the call that does the sweeping.

From your seat within the travel agency you ask your guide to uncover a few inches of the ancient stone at the base of the pyramid. As she dutifully complies and the small ripples in the stone are revealed you convince yourself you must go visit these majestic monuments as soon as possible.

Virtual Reality Tourism As Travel Brochure

For just over a year the Thomas Cook travel group has led the way in tourism customer experience with its virtual reality services. Online or in-store, the multi-armed European giant–with its own airline–offers its clients the chance to try-before-they-fly by donning a VR headset, or just using a Chrome browser, and taking virtual tours of locations and airliners.

In partnership with VR provider Visualise, it offers self-guided trips around the Pyramids in Egypt, Greek island resorts, the skyway in Singapore, and the parks and skyline of Manhattan. It also lets customers step aboard its planes and walk down the first class aisle as Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, and Lady Gaga get ready to fly.

Visualise has boasted that this offering–an immersive version of the traditional travel brochure–generated $15,000 of additional travel spend and an 180% increase in New York-related sales within just three months of its introduction in 2015.

While the technology certainly makes for a new wrinkle in the sales pitch, the experience isn’t too much of an improvement over Google Earth, and we think it could become far more powerful with a touch of real-time video conferencing.

Virtual Reality Vs. Video Call

Thomas Cook has something of a virtual tourism rival right in its own neck of the woods.

Late last year, hotel chain Marriott International partnered with virtual retailer GoInStore to create real-time guided tours of 14 European properties. Using GoInStore’s smart glasses tech, the partnership allows American convention organizers to scout locations in-person from the comfort of their home office. Their guides don the glasses for an interactive see-what-I-see video calling experience allowing the organizer to get as close to walking the halls of a hotel in Paris or Berlin as possible without buying a plane ticket.

While Marriott is targeting a different clientele than Thomas Cook (high-end business as opposed to the walk-up public), the Marriott version has a distinct advantage–it’s live and it can be customized instantly.

Thomas Cook’s virtual reality tours operate the same way as Google Earth, with crews going out on location ahead of time to film the surrounds from multiple angles. What results is a set piece video that creates the illusion of freedom by letting the viewer switch between camera angles.

If, however, Thomas Cook’s exotic locations could be paired with Marriott’s see-what-I-see interactive guided tours, then we could create a virtual tour so realistic it’d make you want to run your hands through the sands of the pyramids.

Virtual Reality Tourism Tech

Neither company is looking to recreate the on-ground experience of visiting these far off destinations. Do a good enough job of that and no one will hand over cash for the plane ticket, the tour, and the hotel room.

Instead, they are inspiring temptation, taking the customer right to the brink of the experience until they are compelled to pay for it. So, under a hybrid scheme, a customer might enter the retail outlet, or log on to the website, don their VR headset and be greeted by a member of the sales team shielding their eyes from the decadent sunshine of Egypt, Greece, or Singapore.

Both parties can communicate in real-time like a video call, and once the retailer turns their camera or smart glasses to the surrounding scenery, both can explore the potential of this exotic locale.

It gets the customer closer to the landmarks than a canned production could, and it lets them, through their guide, interact with the surroundings and follow their wandering eye to any tiny detail–heightening the desire to complete the journey and press their own hands into the earth.

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