Virtual reality makes it possible for people to explore computer generated virtual environments and to also interact in those environments by only using a headset. The virtual reality technology artificially creates sensory experiences, which make it seem that as if that person is really present in that environment (Virtual Reality Society, 2016). Virtual reality technology’s popularity is expanding and its potential for marketing is also getting recognized increasingly. Since the travel industry is all about selling experiences, virtual reality can be particularly influential.
Even though it is very likely that virtual reality headsets will be as essential to people in the future as smartphones are now, businesses are still struggling on how to use virtual reality to their advantage in their marketing. When looking at how brands in the travel industry implement virtual reality in their marketing strategies, one hotel brand in particular stands out.
In collaboration with Samsung Gear VR, Marriott has launched several virtual reality initiatives. Their Teleporter program in 2014 was a pilot where they used virtual reality so that people could experience their hotels in Hawaii and London. After that, they launched the VR Postcards. VR Postcards followed travellers on trips to for example Chile, Rwanda, and China, and enables guests to experience those destinations for themselves through a headset. These virtual reality programs can be found on Marriott’s Travel Brilliantly website. This website is an online brand community and co-creation platform where Marriott’s guests can share their ideas that help Marriott to create new experiences (Marriott News Center, 2015).
As Peelen and Beltman (2013) argue, it is very important for brands to provide interesting and engaging content and media that people will connect with and engage in on the social web. Virtual brand communities are a very suitable platform for this; customers can co-construct their own experience, find information, actively debate ideas, provide solutions, and contribute their opinions on these communities (Martínez-López et al., 2016). This is exactly what Marriott does cleverly with their Travel Brilliantly brand community and their virtual reality programs. They make the ‘Marriott experience’ more individual and also easier accessible. Through virtual reality, people will get a better idea about what their holiday experience will be like. These people then share their own personal stories on the Travel Brilliantly platform.
Marriott’s Travel Brilliantly and virtual reality initiatives give Marriott’s customers the opportunity to experience a holiday through virtual reality and to create content with their own perspective to branding experiences. This integration of brand experience and marketing content on their online brand community can be an example for many businesses on how to use virtual reality in the future to engage their customers.
EMarketer. (2015, December 31). Marriott’s Virtual Reality Transports Guests ‘Around the World’. Retrieved October 9, 2016, from http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Marriotts-Virtual-Reality-Transports-Guests-Around-World/1013409
Marriott News Center. (2015, September 9). Marriott Hotels Introduces The First Ever In-Room Virtual Reality Travel Experience. Retrieved October 10, 2016, from http://news.marriott.com/2015/09/marriott-hotels-introduces-the-first-ever-in-room-virtual-reality-travel-experience/
Martínez-López, F. J., Anaya-Sánchez, R., Aguilar-Illescas, R., & Molinillo, S. (2016). Value Creation in Virtual Brand Communities. In Online Brand Communities (pp. 189-205). Springer International Publishing
Peelen, E., & Beltman, R. (2013). Customer Relationship Management (2nd edition).
Virtual Reality Society. (2016). What is Virtual Reality? Retrieved October 9, 2016, from http://www.vrs.org.uk/virtual-reality/what-is-virtual-reality.html