While many people have been stuck at home during the pandemic, virtual travel marketing has emerged to help fill the void felt by those who yearn for faraway places.
The E-Commerce Times caught up with some virtual travel experts to discover how they’re using augmented and virtual reality, video and other technologies, to give folks the opportunity to explore the world without leaving their homes.
“As the pandemic has left many stuck indoors, cautious and scared, there is a common need to feel normal,” Lynn Kaniper, president of Dana Communications, told the E-Commerce Times.
“The ability to dream of vacation provides hope and inspiration for the future. Virtual travel marketing provides businesses the advantage of allowing their customers to have an immersive experience by connecting them directly with their products and services,” she said.
In an increasingly closed-down world, virtual travel opportunities have become more important than ever.
“We know from our monthly travel sentiment study that people have not stopped dreaming about vacations during COVID,” Clayton Reid, CEO of MMGY Global, told the E-Commerce Times.
“In fact, being anchored to home has pronounced the amount of time people are spending with the inspiration and shopping elements of travel. Strong virtual experiences have helped people stay connected to what an ultimate trip will offer and helped to keep long-term leisure travel intent high,” he noted.
Experience the Thrill
Virtual travel marketing can offer a close-to-reality experience, inspiring people to learn about destinations, dream about journeys, and eventually book trips.
“Video is one of the top marketing tools that give the ability to experience through sights and sounds,” explained Kaniper. “Nowadays, 360 tours of destinations or properties allow the audience to experience and set expectations for their travels. Social media has been a way for properties, destinations and travel providers to communicate with their audiences in real time.”
Virtual travel experiences are beginning to imitate the immediacy and thrill of actual travel, and that kind of authentic experience is important for the success of these new marketing techniques.
“Virtual travel marketing has become more and more engaging,” Kaniper continued. “You can have a virtual experience flying in a plane, skydiving, riding a rollercoaster, or simply taking a tour of a resort or hotel. Virtual travel continues to evolve, as people look to have more experiences and to places that they may never get to experience, such as the moon or Mars.”
For a virtual travel marketing campaign to be successful, it needs to engage people as much or more than would an actual trip. When it’s effective, this kind of marketing can inspire people to plan and book a trip, now or in the future.
“It’s all about the ‘wow’ factor,” John Graham, president of Travel World VR, told the E-Commerce Times. “It has to be exciting and energetic. 360/VR videos need to have an even flow to keep the audience engaged, wanting to learn and see more. It will also lead to increased travel bookings and shorten the sales cycle dramatically.”
Virtual travel marketing can be particularly successful when it highlights its many benefits it offers for consumers.
“Today virtual is more important than ever,” Kaniper asserted. “Parents are homeschooling and want ways for exploration for their children. Those with wanderlust can have experiences, but in a safe comfortable way.It is also an eco-friendly solution to over-tourism.
“Whether it’s vacations, cruises, or meetings, virtual gives the ability to plan and know before you go or the ability to get away from it all. Those who aren’t able to travel can now go anywhere in the world, making the bucket list more attainable than ever.”
It’s also important for consumers to see and understand the relevance of virtual travel in their daily lives.
“Virtual and augmented reality programs for theme parks such as Cedar Fair which features ‘immersive living stories,’ and destinations such as Berlin, where visitors can experience the city in advance of their actual trip, allow a new expression of what travel can now represent,” said MMGY’s Reid. “Tying specific video or animated content to a VR/AR experience brings travel brands to life in new and special ways and allows more relevance for travelers.”
The Future of Virtual Travel
Virtual travel is likely here to stay, indeed long after the pandemic. It offers marketers the chance to reach a wide range of customers, and it gives people the chance to travel from the comfort of their own homes.
“VR travel is becoming more mainstream each day,” said Travel World VR’s Graham. “It’s evolving into the ultimate marketing tool for all categories of travel suppliers, travel sellers and their clients, the consumer. It’s changing how travel is being viewed — not only now, but in the future.”
Though spurred on by the crisis of the pandemic, virtual travel marketing is increasingly becoming the norm.
“When the pandemic hit, everyone was scrambling,” Adam Stoker, president and CEO of Relic, told the E-Commerce Times. “How do you market a destination when people are unable to travel? It became immediately apparent to everyone in the tourism industry that while people are unable to travel now, the competition will be fierce when travel opens up again.
“So many destinations decided to figure out ways to allow people who were cooped up in their homes the opportunity to virtually experience the destination. The theory is that if people can see from their homes how amazing a destination is, they will be more likely to book a physical trip to the destination when it’s safe.”
Many of the techniques being used by virtual travel marketers during the pandemic will, in fact, likely permanently transform the world of travel marketing.
“This phenomenon of virtual travel marketing may have appeared in the pandemic, but I see this as being a kickstart to a new wave of creative execution in the industry,” explained Relic’s Stoker.
“The success destinations see as a result of this marketing strategy during the pandemic will lead to continuous virtual content creation as time goes on. It’s something the industry has needed to invest in for a long time. The pandemic was just an accelerator,” he suggested.
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