VR/AR in Travel

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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.
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Virtual Reality Used in Travel Marketing


As requested, 5 case studies are presented below highlighting the use of VR in travel marketing in the past two years, as well a short overview of each.

Before this, however, I will present a section on my insights in researching these case studies as well as some older examples that may be of interest to you.

The 5 case studies will be followed by a brief conclusion.

Analysis and older case studies

In researching these case studies, I encountered some difficulty finding recent, innovative uses of VR technology in travel marketing, specifically, those that were done in the past two-year period. I was easily able to find many that occurred in between 2014 and early 2016, where it appeared there was an explosion of use of this 'new technology.' However, for the past two years, there appear to be fewer large-scale undertakings in this space.

Two examples from 2014-2015 that my research shows were highly successful and important points in the evolution of VR for travel marketing were the Marriott hotels' multiple efforts in the space and Thomas Cook's "Try Before You Fly"

For the former, Marriott hotels introduced, in 2014 the 'Teleporter,' a virtual enclosed both where people could experience brief VR vacations for 100 seconds. This touring show was then followed by Marriot's use of In-Room virtual reality experiences. With this, clients could use VR headsets in their room to experience personal travel stories in VR. These efforts were some of the first of their kind, and Marriott continued to innovate in these areas.

Another major innovator in this area in 2015 was Thomas Cook, the travel agency. They allowed potential customers to take brief VR experiences of potential destinations from their stores. This 'Try Before You Buy' was apparently extremely successful, with a '190% uplift' in New York visits after people tried the VR tour.

After these and other success stories, however, the pace of major new developments seems to have slowed somewhat. Many companies have created VR videos and tours of potential destinations, but these tend to be small-scale productions. However, I was able to find 5 case studies of interest in the past two years. They are presented below.

1) Best Western vr tours of rooms and hotels

Unlike Marriott, Best Western took a different approach with VR, allowing potential guests to tour their rooms and hotels before booking. This program, dubbed 'BWVRE,' lets the customers see and inspect rooms, facilities, grounds and other features before renting rooms or meetings. These VR enabled videos are posted on social media, including Facebook and YouTube. Anyone with VR goggles can see and experience them in VR, and they are also available as standard videos. Best Western has received several awards for this and other uses of VR and AR technology.

2) Lufthansa Seat Upgrades

The airline Lufthansa uses VR in several ways, including examining potential purchases and in-flight videos. However, in terms of travel marketing, the most innovative use of VR is to entice customers to 'upgrade' their seats on the airline from regular economy to premium economy class. This is done by approaching waiting passengers in the airport lounge and offering them first a VR tour of their destination. After they have watched this video, they are asked to look at the company premium economy class seats in VR, and offered them discount rate. The airline provides VR goggles for temporary use.

3) Amadeus allows the use of vr to book flights and hotels

An interesting inversion of previous examples, Amadeus, the travel technology company is adding VR functionality to is Navitaire booking system. What this means is that customers can use VR goggles to search through routes, pick flights or cars or hotels. After this, they could pay for them in VR as well. This booking system goes beyond traditional VR tours and allows meaningful interactions like purchasing and trip planning. Though still in a prototype phase, it's a fascinating use of the technology.

4) Virtual marketing of Abu Dhabi

Here, the Abu Dhabi tourism board has teamed up CNN, the broadcaster, to produce and promote the city as a tourism destination. They gave CNN extensive access, included the ability to use drones, to produce using VR videos highlighting the city. These videos were then made available on CNN's websites. This was part of a larger campaign, mixing television and VR advertising in a multi-platform appeal. CNN was able to capture extremely detailed videos and immersive content using these techniques.

5) Travelweek upgrades Explorer VR virtual tools.

Showing that at least some travel agencies are sticking with, and even doubling down on VR, Travelweek has upgraded its travel agent directed VR App Explorer VR. This app is available for travel agents working to demonstrate potential destinations to clients. One of the changes Travelweek is making is paring the app with 'Zeiss-Model' headsets, which are considered high quality and easy to use by them. This updated app now also allows increased functionality, such as being able to record and then play without wifi. Travelweek has spent signficant resources developing and upgrading this app, and it appears committed to continue development.


It does seem like the initial enthusiasm for VR in the travel marketing industry has somewhat slowed in the past two years. However, there are still several companies and agencies innovating in the field. Further, as VR technology is refined and becomes more and more available in the mass market, this use VR to promote travel is likely only to increase in the future.