The loud buzz you hear is 2016 shaping up to be the year that the future of virtual reality shifts into blindingly bright focus for all industries-including tourism. Everyone has heard something about the new VR headsets such as Oculus Rift (which shipped last week!), HTC Vive, along with the less expensive GearVR and Google's Cardboard. But how do they work and what exactly does virtual reality mean for the travel industry?
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Virtual reality devices, such as the Oculus Rift and the Samsung VR Headset, are poised to transform several sectors of the economy over the coming year, including gaming, cinema and even pornography, but the latest industry looking to exploit the latest in experience tech is the travel business.
"Virtual reality, which I think is going to change the way both many of the things that we do today are and some new and important areas are transformed, like tourism, " said Shaun Collins, CEO of research group CCS Insight, told CNBC.
Traveling without leaving home? No-cost exploration of new destinations? It sounds like a thing of the far-off future, right?
This kind of travel is accessible right now with virtual reality roaring into the market. Abi Mandelbaum, the CEO of VR app YouVisit, said the technology holds the promise of transporting the general public to far-away lands, and he notes that true VR experiences isn't just about watching videos.
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The results of YouGov's latest Travel Booking Trends study for the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA) region have announced. The report says that 51 percent of respondents claim the concept of virtual reality in their travel booking process is very appealing.
The study sought opinion from over 10,000 travelers across 21 countries.
Long-haul air travel is a hellish experience.
I recently spent close to 30 hours in a cramped seat at 10,000 meters. Short of gaining an upgrade I was stuck in cattle class, the bane of air travelers.
At least that was until I started using the Samsung Gear VR headset.
The Gear VR uses one of the company's latest phones (in flight-mode for safe air travel) as its display. It creates an immersive 3-D virtual environment.
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Travel site Expedia is investing in virtual reality apps to help younger visitors choose vacation destinations. That decision wasn't fueled by market hype, but by its recent study comparing the travel habits of millennials (those born between 1982- 1999) with those of people in Generation X (1961-1981) and baby boomers (1945-1960).
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Carnival Corp. hopes virtual reality will give land lovers a better sampling of what vacationing aboard one of its cruise lines is actually like. The world's largest cruise line has partnered with AT&T on a new marketing promotion that is using Samsung Electronics' Gear VR in 133 AT&T stores across 37 states to offer 360-degree vacation experiences to customers.
Getting entertained while flying in an aluminum tub some tens of thousands of feet above ground is a multi-billion dollar question. There are two approaches – one that doesn't offer any form of IFE (in-flight entertainment), telling passengers to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). On the other hand, carriers can offer lavish displays with hundreds of hours of entertainment.
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By the end of the year, at least nine Six Flags theme parks will have rollercoasters equipped with virtual reality headsets that let riders pretend they're flying with Superman or fighting aliens.
Six Flags Entertainment CEO John Duffey thinks the potential is huge for virtual reality technology to enhance experiences without spending great sums of money.
During an earnings call with analysts, Duffey said he expects eventually to use virtual reality during the company's holiday events such as Fright Fest during Halloween and Holiday in the Park around Christmas.
The very worst thing I can say about The Climb, a virtual reality rock-climbing game from studio Crytek, is that it does not include dinosaurs.
Granted, many games lack dinosaurs. I'm picking on Crytek partly because its excellent first prototype was called Back to Dinosaur Island 2 and involved being inexplicably swarmed by pterodactyls, which have sadly been excised from the final product. But I'm also doing it because there are so few outright bad things to say about The Climb — and so many good ones.
It's already a given that the future of virtual reality will extend far beyond gaming and into the realm of travel and tourism. So it's no surprise that a new VR project from The Farm 51 will include a virtual documentary about the totally forbidden and uninhabitable Chernobyl.
According to Game Informer, today is actually the 30th anniversary of the infamous Chernobyl disaster, which took place in the city of Pripyat. Developer The Farm 51 released a teaser trailer to show off their progress on the interactive documentary about the nuclear disaster.
When I look well out on the horizon, I envision a time when the travel industry begins to lose business and virtual reality travel steps in to offer affordable virtual travel anywhere, anytime. Of course I didn't imagine that such an offering would already come to fruition, but heck, technology progresses rapidly, right?
A South African travel agency, called Contiki, has just announced what they say is the world's first virtual reality itinerary, free from all the worries of lost luggage, terrorist attacks and delayed flights. Called "Virtually Unlimited," Contiki's travel packages feature the choice of multiple destinations, all of which stimulate each of the five senses.