Immersive technologies are now a ubiquitous feature of tech events and conversations. In the past few years, the technologies have permeated every industry and the hospitality sector has not been left behind.
Initial applications in this sector involved using either virtual reality or augmented reality to amplify the guest experience. One of the commonest applications has been the use of VR hotel tours and hotel room showcases. Some hotels have also leveraged VR in marketing their products, a perfect example of this being the Marriott Hotel with its “Travel Brilliantly” campaign that leveraged VR to virtually transport guests from a New York booth to various dream destinations. The use-cases then moved on to new frontiers including in-destination marketing, in-room entertainment and the pre-trip booking process.
For many hoteliers, the three-dimensional and computer-generated environment created by virtual reality and which can often be hyper-realistic with the right headsets, presents a new marketing minefield that could be tapped to elevate the customer experience at every level. Its manipulatable feature makes it an indispensable tool in the hands of marketers and branding specialists. The technology is already transforming the industry in multiple ways.
The rate of adoption of virtual reality in the hospitality industry has been quite unprecedented with players ranging from airlines to hotels hopping onto the bandwagon. Initially, these applications were centered around entertainment-based experiences. Some of the initial VR experiences involved hotel brands and other travel vendors enveloping their prospective audiences with the sights, sounds and scents of the hospitality product on offer. However, the scope of VR and AR applications in the hospitality industry has grown beyond just the clever marketing campaigns into more interesting and even more sophisticated dimensions.
Could Virtual Reality Replace the Actual Experience?
Innovation in the virtual reality space is creating new affordable and high-spec hardware that renders highly realistic immersive experiences. Some travel and tourism experts have wondered whether hyper-realistic VR experiences may one day replace the real thing and diminish the appetite for wanderlust. For the hotel and hospitality industry in general, VR and AR have always been seen as an opportunity and many have capitalized on their rising popularity to elevate the experience for their clients and gain a competitive edge.
Virtual reality applications in the hospitality industry can be broadly divided into the following areas:-
- Virtual travel experiences
- Virtual hotel tours
- Virtual booking processes
- Virtual reality training for hospitality staff
- Virtual reality entertainment
Virtual travel experiences
Virtual travel is the kind of VR experience that the hospitality industry would rather not have. But the fear is quite misplaced. Even though virtual reality experiences are getting increasingly immersive, they still aren’t a match for the actual touristic experience. People want the real deal. Whether it’s a safari, ancient ruins or picturesque sandy beaches, people would rather book a flight and get a real feel of the experience than simply visualize it via a virtual reality headset.
Virtual travel is unlikely to replace the real touristic experience even if additional sensory features are incorporated into the virtual reality rig. In fact, research has shown that experiencing a destination via virtual reality usually makes the user even more inclined to visit the destination or attraction in person and get a real feel. An immersive VR tour might be reason enough for an avid traveler to throw caution to the wind and book a flight to their dream destination.
Virtual hotel tours
From a hospitality marketing perspective, virtual tours provide the most relevant application for virtual reality technology. Traditionally, the hospitality industry has relied on videos or static images of the travel product to attract clients. Imagery is still a powerful selling point for the hospitality sector so the more captivating the images are, the higher the probability of generating a conversion.
The average customer needs a lot of information before making a booking and virtual reality can be an important tool for conveying the experiential aspect of the product in a very realistic manner. Rather than reading long descriptions and seeing a few images of a room or a hotel, a virtual reality tour can give the customer the opportunity to experience the product for themselves before they make a booking. Virtual reality can give prospective customers a virtual “try before you buy” experience that can drastically boost conversion rates and give customers a better perception of what they are buying into.
It does not stop at the room tours. Hoteliers can also use virtual reality to give customers destinations tours where they can learn about the various attractions near their accommodation. It makes for a more wholesome trip.
The virtual reality hotel or destination tours can be made available on the hotel website or as part of a VR app store, thereby allowing guests to conveniently look at the hotel or room before they make the booking. Integrating it into the booking process can be a good way to boost the conversions. These experiences can be accessed via virtual headsets but it is also possible to package them inside 360-degree technology.
Virtual booking processes
The virtual tours can go in tandem with the ordinary travel booking process. However, it is now possible to implement a virtual booking process. This is where a user enters into a virtual environment, tours and reviews the product and is able to make a booking inside virtual reality. It’s another way to boost conversions with the help of VR.
Virtual reality booking processes have already been implemented by travel technology providers such as the global distribution system Amadeus which offers a VR platform where customers can search for and book flights, hotel rooms and even compare prices through VR to get the best rates.
Virtual booking systems have not yet been fully explored. It’s still the early days but it is easy to see how this could be a huge thing in the near future as virtual reality becomes more mainstream.
Virtual reality training for hospitality staff
Training is one of the best use-cases for virtual reality technology. The immersive, interactive and manipulatable nature of VR means that you can pack in a lot of information and illustrations that can aid in the learning process. Virtual reality training is being embraced across board by various institutions ranging from universities and colleges to businesses intent on passing on skills to staff.
For the longest time, virtual training has been limited to high-end commercial and industrial concerns. In the early days, the high threshold was partly due to the high prices. Enterprise-grade virtual reality headsets would cost as much as $15,000. However, prices have dropped sharply in the recent past due to lower hardware costs and increased consumer adoption. Stiff competition has also been a key factor in the lowering of costs. Hardware vendors are increasingly coming up with more sophisticated high-spec VR hardware that is fairly affordable.
The increased accessibility has been a key factor in the quick deployment of VR in consumer-facing applications, including in the training of staff. In the hotel industry, up to 70% of operators believe that virtual reality training will be more mainstream in under 5 years. This shows a receptive posture that is likely to drive high adoption rates in the industry.
There are aspects of training that can be coded into a virtual reality training platform. For example, hospitality sector trainees can use VR applications to practice their interpersonal skills. VR training platforms can also be used in simulating the front-desk staff operations thereby training the front-facing staff in professional customer care etiquette. Most hotels or hospitality players that currently deploy VR staff training do so to boost the quality of guest interactions.
Virtual reality staff training in the hospitality or customer care sector also helps in refining problem resolution in staff through iterative simulations mimicking real-life customer interactions.
Companies can map out their weak points in their customer service and hotel performance and develop training simulations that address these situations. Virtual reality training simulations can be developed for front desk staff, maintenance routines, housekeeping routines as well as for breakfast staff with VR experiences that are as close to the real-life interactions and events as possible.
Benefits of VR Training in Hospitality Industry
The hospitality industry is very service-based and can benefit hugely from such simulations and trainings as the slightest oversights can often lead to lost bookings, poor guest experience and negative reviews. One hotel that has already developed a VR platform for staff training is Best Western.
Virtual reality training confers many advantages over the traditional in-person employee training sessions and seminars. As a cutting-edge technological solution, it’s a more forward-thinking approach which not only increases the engagement but also brings a very realistic component to the training which enables trainees to visualize the real-life scenarios where their training is likely to be applied. This offers staff under training better preparation against any future eventualities.
Traditional customer service training generally relies on role-playing situations among trainees to simulate various customer interactions. In VR, this can be replaced with an avatar which helps the trainee practice for situations without the pressure and social awkwardness they are likely to face in a practice setting.
Employees in a virtual training environment are immersed in a hyper-realistic but safe simulated training environment where they can practice and perfect their skills before they immerse themselves in their jobs. Virtual reality training not only increases the employee engagement but it also facilitates faster, cheaper and better staff training in an otherwise high turnover industry.
Hotels that have implemented VR staff training have seen a significant decrease in the number of customer complaints indicating a radical improvement in the quality of the customer service. Results from Best Western’s VR-powered training and certification program indicated that guest complaints had decreased by 71% and the customer ratings had increased by 19%. The hotel chain was seeing up to 20-point increase in customer satisfaction scores in some of its hotels after administering VR staff training.
Virtual reality training is also a powerful recruitment tool for players in the hospitality industry. Deploying VR staff training resulted in the reduction in time spent in onboarding and training the new hires. This not only reduces the cost of acquiring new hires but it also gives these establishments a massive productivity boost. In an industry where the employee turnover is high, it helps to have system that streamlines staff recruitment and rapidly gets new employees on board.
VR training also results in increased employee engagement along with a sense of empowerment and pride in one’s work. A well-trained person has greater dedication in their work and is able to deliver a superior quality of work which results in higher customer satisfaction levels.
Virtual reality entertainment
Entertainment is an integral part of the hospitality package. Apart from providing TVs in rooms with lots of exciting channels, many establishments also go out of their way to offer their guests authentic entertainment experiences including music, live bands, dances and various kinds of performances.
In the future, part of the entertainment package could be rendered in virtual reality. Hoteliers could warm the hearts of their guests via memorable moments in VR. There is a vast amount of content that could be included to create extraordinary virtual reality experiences even in the most ordinary of environments. The challenge for hoteliers could be the high cost of acquiring a large number of headsets for hotel guests.
Virtual reality technology is still in its early days and many players in the hospitality industry are still trying to crystallize the aspects of the technology will be the best fit for them in terms of meeting the staff training needs and elevating the guest experience in their establishments.
There are also business considerations to keep in mind when it comes deploying VR in the hospitality industry. Can the costs, for example, be justified? Will a virtual reality investment improve the business bottom-line? Some players in the industry are even uncertain about the trajectory of the technology. Will it take off and go mainstream in a big way or will it remain a niche product among techies and gamers?
In spite of the uncertainties and financial hurdles, virtual reality could still have a significant impact on the operations of hotels and other players in the hospitality industry. Operators need to have an immersive technology strategy that will outline the best roadmap for VR adoption and then invest accordingly. There is no one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter solution to VR implementation. What suits a major resort may not necessarily be ideal for a small boutique hotel or an international chain. Beyond the experiential aspect, hoteliers must also explore the use of VR as a revenue generation tool in order to justify the investment.
This is only an overview of what is possible in the Hospitality and F&B industry with the Virtual Reality. We are working on many projects and partnership at the moment. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you want to know more : email@example.com
Mickaël Dailly – Funder VR Perception – Virtuality Hotels – Noirmoutier 360