Augmented Reality Used in Travel Marketing
Although AR is more affordable and accessible technology-wise in comparison to VR, often requiring only a smartphone, it appears to be used less in travel marketing. AR “augments” by adding a digital overlay to a real-life image and as such, generally works when the user is on location, whereas VR can be used to “transport” a user to a new destination in a fully immersive experience which is most useful as a promotional tool for travel. I have compiled a list of five case studies where AR has been used in travel marketing, however, two of these date from prior to two years ago due to limited availability of recent examples. These case studies including marketing tools for the destinations of Tuscany, Moscow, Orlando and Finland, and for the company mTrip which in addition to AR travel guides, produces variations on these AR apps for travel marketing for hotels, brands and destinations.
My search included travel marketing and technology industry sites, trusted media articles, and app directories. Based on articles reviewed, it seems that VR is used more frequently than AR in travel marketing, thanks to its ability to “transport” users as well as the growth of suitable platforms such as Facebook’s 360. Recent articles on the topic of AR and VR use in travel and travel marketing include examples that date from before 2016, which suggests that since the hype about AR which peaked with the popular mobile phone game Pokemon Go, there have been fewer applications of AR in travel marketing of note. Because of the limited availability of travel marketing examples in the past 2 years only, the case studies selected extend to examples from prior to 2016.
Also some of these may not be considered "marketing" in the strictest form, that these are the most relevant examples that were publicly available that were directed at "travel marketing." Tourism apps are a logical way for an augmented reality to create marketing and advertising opportunities in their business mode,l by gaining partnerships throughout the tourism community.
Among the first generation of apps using AR “built specifically for tourism”, in 2010 Tuscany+ was created to promote Tuscany as a holiday destination. The app provides an “interactive, real-time guide” with information about “dining, sightseeing, accommodation and entertainment” in a map of the area. It also overlays digital icons in the live view indicating landmarks or sites of interest with additional information available.
mTrip, a Canadian company in the “location guide/technology business” first produced a series of guide apps for travel destinations. These all include an AR feature which allows users to view their surroundings along with “places to visit in real-time, with distance, ratings, prices and opening hours”. In 2014 mTrip moved into developing “apps for the likes of destination marketing organizations and tour operators”, offering a travel guide-style app with AR features that would garner publicity for the destination, hotel or travel brand when users shared AR-enhanced moments from their trip on social media.
A festive destination marketing 2017 campaign for Finland starring Santa Claus, “an official and important part of the Finnish culture”, includes an app featuring AR called Arilyn, developed in conjunction with the Finnish company Robust North. The app allows users to view a digital greeting on their smartphone screen by “scanning any of the Santa’s images that have AR content attached to them”. They can also use the app AR camera filter to take a selfie “with” Santa.
Another destination marketing app using AR to create an engaging experience was announced in 2016 by Moscow's "department of information technologies". The app offers a way for users to “meet historical figures in the locations that are important to their stories” and in a Pokemon Go-like twist, “"catch" them by taking a selfie with a 3-D representation of each figure on their smartphone”. Based on the Discover Moscow app, the aim of the feature was “to attract attention to Moscow’s rich cultural heritage” using the novelty of the technology, as well as encouraging some physical activity via exploration of the city.
Another app with AR features which promotes a holiday destination is from Visit Orlando, and was piloted in 2016. The app features a pair of cutting-edge technologies, AI and AR, to put the app in a “unique space” according to the associate VP of travel industry sales at Visit Orlando. In addition to IBM Watson-based AI technology that helps the app personalize content to the user, the app features a couple of AR components. The first is a convenient “map overlays pointing out things like nearby attractions and dining”. The second is a more fun AR feature, an AR Magical Orb Game which lets players access promotional deals and sweepstakes by hunting for “magical orbs” that pop up in the digital overlay. All these features allow tourists to “maximize their...vacation”.
The use of AR in travel marketing seems to tend to lend itself to destination marketing, with the cases found all for cities or regions promoting themselves using a smartphone app with AR features. Many of these AR apps require the user to be at the destination location in order to fully utilize them, so encourage travel to the destination. Sharing of AR-enhanced images produced on social media again serves to promote the travel destination more widely.