As Oculus Rift launches its first consumer virtual reality headset and the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR set to launch soon, 2016 is fast becoming the year of virtual reality. Virgin Holidays has already been using the innovative technology in some of its stores for more than a year. We caught up with Sunna van Kampen, trading marketing manager, to find out more…
How has Virgin Holidays used virtual reality?
We created a unique solution where stores could occupy waiting customers with a virtual tour of Virgin Holidays’ destinations, allowing them to ‘try before they buy’. Using a special 360 degree rig and GoPro cameras, we ventured to Riviera Maya in Mexico (Virgin Holidays’ key destination) to capture an authentic Mexican excursion. We got up close with dolphins in Xel-Ha park, walked the ruins and cliffs of Tulum, toured the hotels and relaxed on the beautiful beaches of Maroma.
All this content was filmed from a first person perspective, so everything we captured, at every angle, was the sensation and visuals a customer could experience themselves. We recorded ambient sound to create a real, sensory experience of what the holiday would sound like, as well as look like. We then turned this into a virtual reality experience using Google Cardboard technology. We launched in January 2015 with the biggest Virtual Reality Roll out in the UK.
Why was virtual reality the best choice for Virgin Holidays?
The January Sale is our most important time of the year. Winter weary Brits love using the December downtime to begin planning next year’s holiday. During this period most people still look to the reassurance and personal experience of a retail travel agent in store after their own research online.
We start every decision making process by putting the consumer first, so we needed to find a way to keep our customers engaged and informed even during busy sale periods - especially as almost half of sales still come from within the store environment. We knew content was king but didn’t everybody, so we needed something truly new and unique that could create an immersive and engaging experience for our customers.
How is virtual reality changing the customer’s experience?
Travel buying has become an incredibly visual decision making process, with social media awash with holiday photos and 61 per cent of leisure travellers saying they view a travel video to help them choose their destination. Stores could offer brochures and guides to destinations, but these lacked the visceral and emotive experiences provided by social and video content.
We knew that the in-store reality jarred massively with the digital research that preceded it. Our idea was to turn to the next evolution in video, virtual reality, and create Virgin Holidays Virtual Holidays, accelerating the brand into the future of the travel industry by creating content that literally transported customers to the holiday of the their dreams.
Does this mean that virtual reality will be part of the retail experience of the future?
The content wowed customers and had a phenomenal impact on sales and customer experience. The experience kept customers in the stores longer and we generated a significant rise in sales of holidays to Riviera Maya. Therefore, for Virgin Holidays Virtual Reality is here to stay. As with any new technology there are still things that can be improved and we are working on ways to take virtual reality to the next level as we see it as a key way to bring the holiday experience to life for our customers.