The world is constantly changing and over the last decade, there was the shift from offline to online communication channels and information sources. This affected all economic sectors, as well as the tourism industry. Where travel agencies played the most important role in travel planning process for decades, the Internet took this role and businesses had to adapt their business strategies. Besides Internet, social media started to play an incredibly influential role in the daily life of people and also in their travel planning process. But how can tour operators constantly change their business and marketing strategies to stay up to date with the latest trends and to keep in touch with their customers? That question has been answered very well by the D-RT Group BV, to which D-reizen, VakantieXperts and the Thomas Cook Travel Shops belong to. They implemented the latest trend of Virtual Reality (VR) within the physical arena like in stores and on travel trade shows.
As we all know, virtual reality gives you the opportunity to experience something without actual being there. This technology could be applicable to all sectors and industries, so does it for travel and tourism. When looking to the customer journey, people use all types of information channels to get inspired for their next holiday and to learn more about a destination. One of the trends in travel and tourism was the decrease of the importance of the physical arena. People could access all information at home and in case they would have a question, they could use the chat function on the website or throw their question on social media and someone would come up with the answer. This is still the case and the use of mobile devices and social media will only increase the coming years. However, people also seek new experiences and want have as much information as possible about their next holiday. With the development of virtual reality, a new information and marketing channel has been established, but at this moment, the majority of the customers does not have access to VR equipment and could not have to complete VR experience (Oates, 2016). They do have the possibility to watch 360-degree/3D videos on their mobile or desktop device, but that does not have the same level of involvement as a VR experience would have. This because of the fact that VR really immerse the customers in the experience and a higher level of engagement could be reached between travel brands and consumers as Greg Oates (2016) says. Therefore, tour operators should take the lack of accessibility for the consumers as a chance to offer something unique in the physical arena and to engage customers on another level than they are used to.
According to Boswijk (2011, as cited in Peelen & Beltman, 2013), it is essential to create unique, personal and memorable touchpoints during all stages of the customer journey to engage people with your brand. Especially during the first stage of the process, or the I-want-to-go-away moments as it is called in the customer journey 2.0, it is important to engage potential customers with your brand. Offering the chance to have a virtual reality tour at your preferred destination already, creates these unique and memorable touchpoints. Thomas Cook was the first tour operator using VR in stores. The idea of “try before you buy” gives people the opportunity to ‘visit’ New York already and to make a helicopter tour over Manhattan or to take a boat tour around the Statue of Liberty while they are just standing in the store in their hometown (Elbers, 2015; VRwereld, 2016; Woollaston, 2014). Even though Thomas Cook started using VR two years ago already in the United Kingdom and Belgium, it is still not a widely spread trend. Only this year, D-reizen was the first tour operator in the Netherlands using VR on the Vakantiebeurs in Utrecht. This suggests that there is still plenty of room for all tour operators to jump into this trend and to engage customers on the next level. For now, the challenge is to increase the awareness of virtual reality for both the consumers and the tourism businesses and to make it more common to use this promising technique.
Elbers, L. (6 February, 2015). Belgen gaan aan de slag met virtual reality bril in Neckermann winkels. Retrieved on October 6, 2016 from http://www.travelnext.nl/belgen-gaan-aan-de-slag-met-virtual-reality-bril-neckermann-winkels.html
Oates, G. (6 July, 2016). Travel Brands Experiment With Virtual Reality as Consumer Adoption Lags. Retrieved on October 6, 2016 from https://skift.com/2016/07/06/travel-brands-experiment-with-virtual-reality-as-consumer-adoption-lags/
Peelen, E. & Beltman, R. (2013). Chapter 15, Multichannel management. In E. Peelen, & R. Beltman, Customer Relationship Management (Vol. 5, pp. 253 – 276). United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited.
VRwereld (31 August, 2016). Virtual Reality in de reisbranche. Retrieved on October 6, 2016 from http://www.vrwereld.nl/virtual-reality-in-de-reisbranche/
Woollaston, V. (28 November, 2014). Try before you FLY: Travel agent uses virtual reality to let holidaymakers explore their dream destinations. Retrieved on October 6, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2852928/Try-FLY-Travel-agent-uses-virtual-reality-let-holidaymakers-explore-dream-destinations.html