A new experiment by Marriot hotel chain will allow guests to virtually sample destinations using the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that offers high-definition, 3-D display. The new technology, originally designed for gaming, is capable of producing lifelike interactive settings, ultimately transporting users to exotic getaway destinations almost anywhere on the planet.
It certainly gives Google Street Views a run for its money.
Still, virtual travel is a long way from becoming mainstream, but that doesn’t stop the travel industry from tinkering with the potential of the idea.
“We really want to appeal to the next generation of travelers,” said Karen Olivares, director of global brand marketing for Marriott.
But, according to CNN, the point isn’t to replace real-world travel with the cheaper, virtual option. Instead, the travel industry hopes to generate more business by allowing people to sample snippets of alluring vacations – from rafting in the Grand Canyon to hiking the Great Wall of China. If clients like what they see – or more accurately, experience – then they may be prompted to splurge on the real thing.
At the center of this trend are hi-tech systems, such as the Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus. For the most part, these technologies have been designed for gaming, but developers are quickly seeing the long-term benefits of their products. Facebook, for example, has already invested $2 billion for Oculus VR – the maker of the Oculus Rift.
In an online forum, one of the developers of the Oculus Rift states, “I could go for a run in the morning in some exotic beach and in the evening stroll the streets of some city … I could be a virtual storm chaser close to a tornado and even travel deep in the ocean.”
“In fact these experiences will be so real, without risk, and of course cheap that I might actually have second thoughts about traveling … Antarctica without the cold … Jungles without the heat and bugs … And people who will provide (this) content will make millions.”
But consumer versions of both the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus aren’t expected to hit the market any time soon – at the earliest in 2015. Still, that hasn’t stopped the travel industry from exploring and testing prototypes. The Marriott, for example, invites visitors to climb inside a “Teleporter” booth, which takes people on a virtual tour of Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach in Maui and Tower 42 in London.