Taking the Virtual Plunge
In the world of digital hotel site tours, there’s virtual reality, and then there’s Virtual Reality! The former has been around for some time and is a fairly common feature on many hotel websites. The immersive experience of the latter is something new altogether, an emerging technology that has just started to take off with hotels and destinations thanks largely to the introduction of the virtual reality headset Oculus Rift in March of this year.
Hotels have always used splashy photos and videos to sell their properties, and web-based virtual tours are just more ammo in that arsenal. And like those photos and vids, they’re meant to be enjoyed on your computer screen, such as this tour of the Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo. More dynamic than a photo and more controllable than a video, the virtual tour gives a 360-degree view of whatever room you happen to be standing in by simply moving your cursor around the screen. You can sometimes even get a detail of the carpet, or a view of the skylight.
Virtual reality through an Oculus Rift headset takes the virtual tour to a whole other level. There’s no on- or off-screen. Your entire field of vision is placed within the virtual environment, while the real world is blocked out. Turn your head, and your virtual field of vision turns along with it as if you were actually there.
While Oculus Rift is limited to the visual, Marriott Hotels has expanded on this experience through its Teleporter, a phone-booth size structure that allows for a 4-D tour of Hawaii’s Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach in Maui or London’s Tower 42. Besides the headset, users wear wireless headphones that play back sounds captured during filming, while other sense elements are piped into the booth.
In the case of the Hawaiian tour, the experience begins with a stroll through a Marriott Greatroom, then jumps to the Maui beach where users can hear the crashing waves, smell the saltwater and feel the ocean mist and warmth of the sun. In London, users can hear traffic sounds and feel the wind on their faces while looking over the city from the 42nd floor.
Marriott has since started offering VR Postcards on Samsung’s Milk VR (a competitor to Oculus Rift) to guests at the New York Marriott Marquis and the London Marriott Park Lane. The headset and headphones are ordered like room service, and offer one of three trips by different travelers. You can visit a hiking trail in Chile, sit at a sidewalk table on a bustling Beijing street, or sit outside an ice cream parlor in Butare, Rwanda.
Destinations have also started to get in on the virtual reality act. Destination BC in Vancouver, Canada, filmed an elaborate trip through the Great Bear Rainforest just north of the city, using camera-carrying hikers, boats and drones. The pristine environment includes barking sea lions, roaring waterfalls and trails through evergreen forests.
Photo credits: Shutterstock.com