It’s the technology that’s tried to go mainstream for decades, but just can’t seem to pull it off.
Virtual reality, or VR as it’s known to its fans and the technology industry, is a remarkable technology with limitless potential.
From gaming to entertainment, training to mental healthcare, VR has countless applications that fundamentally change how we consume and think about media, adding interactivity and immersion not previously possible.
Mark Zuckerberg has said that, “VR has the potential to be the most social platform, because you actually feel like you’re right there with another person.”
Yet the VR ecosystem is complex, with numerous companies owning different aspects of the longtime emerging industry.
Major consumer technology brands including Facebook, Google, Samsung, and Sony have invested billions into VR hardware called head-mounted displays (HMDs or VR goggles in layman’s terms).
But it’s a lack of mainstream content that analysts believe continue to hold VR back.
For the travel industry, VR has been touted as a way to know before you go. If you’re making a decision about your upcoming vacation, rather than merely look at photos, you can virtually go there by putting on an HMD.
Deciding between Bali or Koh Samui? Experience them both for two minutes and choose.
Should you splurge on the ocean front suite instead of the superior garden view room? Place yourself in both rooms in VR and look around before you book.
Its promise is clear, but until now, VR has continued to operate on the fringes of the travel industry.
Enter the coronavirus pandemic.
Since the onset of COVID-19, as a society we’ve been conditioned to risk-aversion: why eat at a restaurant when you get takeout? Why go to the office when you meet via Zoom? Is getting that haircut really necessary?
So when faced with the choice of boarding an airplane to see a new city for the first time, or accepting a good-enough 360-degree virtual version of that city, which will we choose?
It’s too early to tell. But until a COVID-19 vaccine is available, and while Americans remain unable to travel to many international destinations for the foreseeable future, VR may just have its moment.
If you’re interested in trying VR travel content, the easiest and cheapest way to start is with 360 video content on YouTube.
VR Gorilla’s playlist has good variety, with cities and safaris to explore. If you watch on a desktop computer, after hitting play, use your mouse to drag the video in all directions to discover all 360 degrees of the experience.
Or better yet, watch the videos in the YouTube app of your smart phone. Then tilt and turn your phone in all directions as you watch and you’ll start to see the appeal.
Or try real VR with a VR headset from Oculus (owned by Facebook) or HTC. Besides real life travel destinations, you can transport yourself underwater or into outer space.
Of course, as travel industry veterans, it’s hard to believe VR will ever match actually going there.
But while we continue to stay at home and ponder when we might travel abroad again, we expect VR will inch its way towards broad adoption.
At the very least, it’s a safe way to “travel” as the coronavirus pandemic continues. And that’s something we can get behind.