Using Virtual Reality for Event Experience

Marriott Harnesses Virtual Reality for Public “Destination Sampling”

Travel scenes and content have long been considered ideal fodder for virtual reality experiences, but the implementation and delivery of those experiences were severely undercut by clunky, expensive, and often uncomfortable headsets and fuzzier, less realistic visual effects. Now, the original vision of virtual travel is coming closer to realization due to the arrival of more lightweight, user friendly, and less expensive technology and to the growing convergence of such immersive technologies as virtual reality, gesture-based technology, augmented reality, and 4D. One of the latest and more intriguing manifestations of virtual reality travel has come from the Marriott Hotels, which has brought to the public multi-sensory travel experiences that illustrate better the potential of virtual reality and other immersive technologies in travel.

The company recently introduced last month two 4D virtual reality travel experiences under the moniker “Get Teleported” at the New York Marriott Marquis last September, and took those experiences on the road to such cities as Boston, Washington, D.C., and Dallas. Those experiences, which together ran 3 minutes, were offered for a few days at each location. They included a virtual trip to downtown London allowing guests and visitors to fly over skyscrapers in that area and another trip to Maui, Hawaii, which allowed visitors to sample beaches there.

The experiences were offered in “teleporter” enclosures akin to phone booths incorporating the Oculus Rift DK2 virtual reality headset, wireless phones, and high-tech audiovisual capabilities, including 3D live-action video and such 4D effects as heat, wind, and mist. One teleporter was deployed at the NY Marriott and the other was a traveling mobile unit. The company even brought a teleporter booth outside New York’s City Court House to allow a married couple to enjoy a “virtual honeymoon” experience, reports Michael Dail, VP of Brand Marketing at Marriott Hotels.

Marriott Hotels’ virtual travel experiences are aimed at “destination sampling” allowing customers to virtually “visit locations before purchasing trips to those locations,” explains Dail. The company views these virtual travel experiences as emblematic of “the direction the travel industry is heading in the next 5-10 years.” As Dail points out, virtual reality is able to provide dynamic, engaging travel experiences that can’t be adequately conveyed in static print brochures and other conventional travel marketing materials. For example, the ability of users to “feel the heat of the sun” in some of these experiences “adds a whole new dimension” to those experiences.

Marriott’s “Get Teleported” tour is one of the latest and most vivid examples of the growing use of new immersive technologies in experiential and event marketing. The tour isn’t only useful for “destination sampling” but also a key tool for attracting customers, especially younger customers, to their hotels and creating a more exciting, cutting edge environment in their hotels.

Marriott’s virtual travel experiences are geared to two main audiences:

1. Those that are “very familiar with virtual reality technology and active users of that technology, especially gamers.”
2. The majority of visitors and guests, who “are completely unfamiliar with virtual reality, but are curious about the technology.”

John Wolf, VP of Global Brand Relations for Marriott International, reports that guests and the public at large quickly became acclimated to the “Get Teleported” virtual travel experiences with assistance from the company’s staff. Marriott Hotels is exploring possible expansion of its virtual travel experiences to other locations, and “will consider next steps. based on what we learn at the end of the ‘Get Teleported’ tour,” notes Wolf.

In fact, Marriott’s virtual travel experiences are part of its larger branding effort focused on “the future of travel,” exemplified by its Travel Brilliantly campaign, and are designed to help ‘reinvent the Marriott brand.” The “Travel Brilliantly” campaign, which began in 2013, “invites consumers to co-create the future of travel,” notes Dail.

Marriott’s virtual travel experiences are aimed at “destination sampling,” inspiring guests to travel to various destinations, and allowing customers to “plan their future trips,” he explains. The company views these virtual travel experiences as emblematic of “the direction the travel industry is heading in the next 5-10 years.” In the meantime, it’s offering guests and the public access to a technology that isn’t currently “very affordable or widely available,” says Dail.

Do you think virtual travel experiences are the wave of the future? What technologies do you foresee emerging?