Virtual reality (VR) has been a topic within the events industry for over a decade. The conversations come at a time when event professionals were debating whether virtual meetings would replace face-to-face. It was a time when Second Life was the platform for escape and in some cases a marketplace to sell products. Now that VR has been brought into our lives with a simple visit to the mobile store, the events industry is embracing its usage as part of an overall digital enhancement strategy. Chinyere Hubbard, Vice President, Communications & Marketing for Events DC states “Events DC has adopted virtual reality as an innovative technology to continue to showcase the brand and its venues. By focusing on creating new and innovative digital assets, virtual reality serves as a promotional and sales tool to highlight its venues and event capabilities.”
The virtual reality experience intention is to place users in an alternative state where he or she is able to experience various situations. It immerses the user in a 360-degree view of entirely new worlds where they can interact with and often manipulate the environment. Virtual reality is the incorporation of both technology and face-to-face elements to create a virtual experience for guests. Today, virtual reality may be established using a wide range of platforms, therefore, it is important for the event professional to select the appropriate platform for their audience.
To create a virtual landscape requires three components: a computer (PC, game console or smartphone) to operate the application, a headset or display to put in front of the user’s eyes, and devices (controllers, microphones, trackpads) to deliver input or instructions from the user’s body to the app. In 2017, NASA collaborated with the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee, which is the fan festival organizer of Super Bowl 51, to share NASA’s contributions with the Houston community, where the agency’s Johnson Space Center is located, and to the nation. At Future Flight, the primary attraction, riders took a trip to Mars and back using virtual reality goggles on a 90-foot drop tower ride. Other features of the VR technology is the ability to view 360-degree simulated events and spaces independent of the VR headset; allowing event managers and producers to view full perspectives and possibilities on computers and mobile devices supported by the content developed
The leader in the consumer goggle headset is Samsung Gear VR. Virtual reality has been incorporated into the Events DC business strategy as an effort to enrich and enhance event experiences. By unveiling a fully immersive virtual reality experience they can continue to deliver amazing customer experiences in order to drive technology throughout all of its venues as well as showcase Washington, DC as the innovation capital. Events DC currently owns several Samsung Gear VR headsets which are used to give current and future clients an in-depth look into their endless event and venue capabilities. It has showcased its virtual reality at many local and national partnership events including:
- 2016 – 1776 Challenge Cup & Technology Showcase, Carnegie Library at Mount Vernon Square
- 2016 – MEET National, Walter E. Washington Convention Center
- 2016 – Technoir Innovators Classic, Ivy City Smoke House
- 2016 – Destination DC’s Marketing Outlook Meeting, Marriott Marquis
- 2017 – Professional Convention Management Association, Austin Convention Center (Austin)
As a supplier, Events DC uses video as a promotional tool to showcase their event spaces to current and potential clients and generate overall brand awareness and sponsorship activation opportunities. In addition to the video, they own a digital library of 360-degree photography from its venues allowing users to get an immersive look into various event spaces and create opportunities for meeting planners/producers to imagine the possibilities for their events. To produce the content, a team of expert videographers and producers captured empty venue spaces and live event footage from a variety of signature events to produce 360-degree and 3D content to highlight Events DC across all lines of business. While extensive, suppliers of all sizes can begin to play in the VR space by collecting 360-degree photos and video from their various events and contract videographers to create the content.
The maturing of virtual reality in experiential marketing has been discussed for many years, attempted and failed to find a road, but it is now back and available for purchase. VR may be a trend that is here to stay enabling brands to completely immerse attendees into their custom-built world. As brands push their limits, the practical application with product experiences will continue to expand. The good news for event organizers is that the costs for viewing and creating content is dropping at the same time that users are coming into view. Hubbard states “Virtual reality capabilities will continue to be utilized to not only to promote event capabilities, upcoming events and initiatives, but will also provide a preview inside event venue transformations, unique and raw venue spaces and architectural visualization updates exploring the RFK Stadium-Armory Campus redevelopment plan and the future Entertainment and Sports Arena project in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC.” If the industry is truly serious about forming experiences in the event space, virtual reality is an exciting and feasible option.
Dr. Erinn D. Tucker is an Assistant Professor in the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at Temple University. Her teaching and research is in the areas of event management, sport management and student engagement. Follow her on Twitter @erinntucker.