Emirates, Thomas Cook and Marriott trial Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets

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By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com

We have seen airlines experiment with the latest digital technologies such as Google Glass (Virgin Atlantic, Spring), smartwatches (Vueling, Iberia, airberlin), and even drones (easyJet).

Besides giving airlines an idea of the feasibility of deploying the latest digital devices into daily operations, the trials also create lot of PR (see also the ‘Innovation is the Marketing’ trend in our free The State of Airline Marketing 2014 report).

The latest technology on the block is virtual reality. Virtual reality company Oculus has been building momentum since it launched the Kickstarter campaign for its Oculus Rift headset – a head mounted virtual reality 3D display, which features an ultra-wide field of view and low latency head tracking – two years ago. The company was acquired by Facebook earlier this year for USD 2 billion.

As the travel industry is always among the first to trial new technologies, companies such as Emirates, Marriott Hotels and British tour operator Thomas Cook recently let the public try on Oculus Rift headsets to immerse themselves in a 3D environment.

According to Thomas Cook, “the technology advancements in virtual reality over the last 18 months have made it a real contender for playing a key role in changing the way we can showcase experience-based products to our customers.”

Emirates ‘Innovation Lab’
Set up in 2012, the Emirates Innovation Lab is a platform where Emirates’ creative minds can come together and brainstorm on pioneering ideas, develop them, and apply these ideas to the airline business.

At the GITEX Technology Week in Dubai earlier this month, the Emirates Innovation Lab showed one of its creations which combines Google Street View with the Oculus Rift headset to give users an immersive experience of an Emirates A380 aircraft – allowing a person to be “transported” on board and have a virtual tour of the onboard lounge, the shower spa, and the Business and First Class cabins. According to Emirates, The Innovation Lab will be exploring the use of the technology for their potential use in cabin crew training and applications.

Marriott ‘Teleporters’
Marriott Hotels has jumped onto the virtual reality bandwagon as part of its ‘Travel Brilliantly’ campaign in an effort to connect with next-generation travellers. The hospitality chain is taking to major cities a display in which passers-by – wearing an Oculus Rift headset – can step into a phone booth-like ‘Teleporter’ and be whisked to Black Sand Beach in Hawaii and the top of Tower 42 in London. Videos of the 3D experience here and here).

The Teleporter made its public debut September 18 at the Marriott in New York and has embarked on an eight-city tour (Boston, Washington, D.C., Atlanta,Dallas, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco) that runs through mid-November.

Marriott hopes users of the Teleporter will be inspired to actually go and take a trip somewhere. “Most people go to a hotel’s website and see beautiful but very static images,” said Michael Dail, VP of Marriott Hotels Brand Marketing, adding that the experience around the hotel is key for travellers.

Users are encouraged to share their opinions, pictures and personal experiences with the hashtag #GetTeleported, in an effort for Marriott to attract younger travelers who may not be as familiar with the global chain’s brand.

Thomas Cook ‘Virtual Reality Holidays’
In an effort to reinvent the travel store experience, British tour operator Thomas Cook in August opened a concept store that is leveraging the latest digital advancements to let store visitors immerse themselves in digital content.

Promoted as ‘virtual reality holiday’, store visistors store can try on Oculus Rift headsets that have been programmed to present a 3D, 360-degree vision of tropical paradise, in order to help build excitement around the holidays the company offers.

The headset – combined with a newly developed application – translates head and motion movements to the virtual world allowing customers to explore Thomas Cook’s Sentido resort and the interior of an Thomas Cook aircraft, while bespoke audio and fragrance complete the immersive experience.

Future plans include offering customers the chance to experience New York City with Oculus later this year, which ties in with the company’s strategic partnership with BrandUSA promoting America’s ‘Great Outdoors’ as well as Thomas Cook’s new flights and holidays to the Big Apple.

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