There are a lot of expectations from virtual reality in the context of revolutionizing several industries- which also includes travel. What started off as a far-fetched idea only seen in sci-fi movies, has now become a reality and currently, a tool for advertising and promotions. The opportunities are not one-sided; consumers will soon have an extraordinary way to plan their holidays and adventures. Picture this: you can have a virtual tour of a hotel complete with walking through the rooms before finalizing your stay, or shortlist destinations by exploring the best of sight and sounds that they have to offer. Best part? All this will be done from the comfort of your home.
You will be surprised at how far this technology has come. There are already a handful of virtual traveling apps available, and big companies like British Airways, Marriott and Qantas have already made progress with experimenting with VR as a marketing tool. On the other hand, Facebook and YouTube are just two of the many websites supporting 360-degree virtual content now.
The great thing is that even if you don’t actually want to plan a getaway, you can still use the fantastic functions of VR and just explore new areas and sites from your armchair. All it requires is the tried and tested Google Street View method of using your mouse to transport yourself into 360-degree photos and videos, completely revamping the way these two mediums are perceived. You may choose to travel to regions where otherwise you may never get the chance to go, such as off -limits destinations or really dangerous sites. The narrator/ tour guide in the videos makes the experience more immersive.
It is all trial and error for now with definite room for improvement. Video resolution quality is still mediocre (although depending on the quality of the content, watching through a VR headset may get nauseating) but progressing day by day. The recent ‘Vroom Service’ by Marriott, done through a Samsung Gear VR headset, is evidence of just how great things are coming along to have the maximum ‘sensory experience.’ There is loads more content upcoming- ranging from high quality professional videos to those shot by the average smartphone user.
Now to the main point, here is how it’s done. If you currently own a VR headset or a Cardboard viewer, or simply have access to a phone and/or computer, here is how you can travel virtually through these apps and sites.
Marriott VR Postcards
As stated earlier, Marriott debuted its ‘Vroom Service’ in collaboration with Samsung, by using which, customers could borrow a Virtual Reality headset and visually experience ‘VR Postcards’- through which tour guides take the user to a local attraction and give its historical and present significance. What was really remarkable about these postcards is that the virtual guide would really enhance the overall experience.
Vroom service- created by Relevant and Framestone, are the second virtual travel experiment by Marriott. You don’t really need to check in to a Marriott hotel in order to check out the VR gear and those who already own Gear VR headsets can simply download the Postcards via Milk VR service.
Lufthansa Travel Compass
German Airliner Lufthansa produced many 360-degree videos shot on location in Hong Kong, Miami, Beijing, New York, Tokyo and San Francisco, for its YouTube channel. Every c45 minute duration video allows the user to pan around consistently in a key area of each of the mentioned cities, like Lombard Street in San Francisco and Chai Street market in Hong Kong. A VR viewer isn’t a requirement for these as one can simply view the videos on YouTube and use their mouse to look around, but the experience is much better when the YouTube app is used with Google Cardboard viewer.
Google Street View
This VR app is compatible with both Android and iOS devices, meaning that you can pretty much go anywhere in the world- literally. A downside is that you have to remove the headset in order to interact with the application. On the brighter side, the app is free for both iOS and Android.
Another StreetView VR app also exists for free by YoutopiaVR, which is unofficial but harnesses the same data as Google Street View. The user interface and navigation of the app is excellent: simply tap to move to the street where you are located, or press longer to bring the map up. Feel free to zoom in and out or leap to any destination in the world. You can even use the microphone and verbally name the place, and the app will take you there. Another really cool feature is the voice activated group function which allows users to visit place virtually with friends. (provided that all of you are equipped with Gear VR)
GoPro- which has dominated and kept a chunk of the action camera market, is really hard hitting in the VR game. The brand’s Odyssey utilizes 16 Hero4 Black cameras to create an 8K panoramic video, with word on the rumor mill that they are all set to make a user friendly 360-degree camera. You can obviously expect the videos from GoPro to be nothing short of outstanding. Have the purest video experience of surfing on your favorite beach or riding a bike on rooftops. If your interest is piqued, check out the New York City tour personally made by Instagrammer and photographer Neil Britto. Samsung and Nikon are not far behind, working on their own VR gizmos and have already announced their 360 cameras, so there is loads to come.
The chances of most of us ever getting the chance to go into space is more or less impossible. Thanks to the millions of images available on the internet and the latest ones transmitted to Earth from outer space, NASA was successfully able to stitch together 360-degree videos and photos of walking on other planets like Mars. The latest panorama hails from a website called Namib Dune.
The name is pretty self-explanatory. Ascape is a virtual reality app dedicated fully to travel. It is available as both an app for iOS and Android as well as on a VR viewer and phone. Ascape offers a selection of 360 degree videos and tours of the coolest places like the Star Wars parade which took place at Disneyland Hong Kong to watching reindeer racing live in Norway. Also, these collections are categorized neatly
Littlstar works as a virtual reality ‘cinema network,’ with a large variety of 360 degree photos and videos hosted on it, available on the dedicated app for iOS and Android as well as for the Web. The travel and aerial content come from all over the world, and include videos from national geographic and Discovery. That’s not all, there are also sports, cars, technology and fashion categories for endless hours of entertainment.
Similar to Littlstar, YouVisit hosts content from all over the Web (via the Oculus Rift or a Web browser) or through the VR headset connected to the app for Android and iPhone. YouVisit offers a more culturally diverse range of travelogues, an example of which is the Ayautthaya temples of Thailand and the Louvre Museum located in Paris. Feel like taking a helicopter trip to have an aerial view of New York City? You got it.
Destination B.C., which works towards promoting tourism in Canada’s British Columbia, recently launched a VR service titled ‘Wild Within’ which goes deep into the natural areas of the West. The videos engage the viewer and enable him to travel through the Great Bear Rainforest for example, and even gives two options for paths to take- a mountain or the coastline. Created originally for the Oculus Rift for desktop, Wild Within is now available on Android and iOS.
Discovery is among the major media outlets to get involved with virtual reality. The company launched its Discovery VR project last August, which aimed towards allowing users to experience the TV shows that they fondly watch- including Survivor man, Gold Rush, Puppy Bowl and MythBusters, in an interactive manner. Additionally, viewers can explore the exotic destinations, ski downhill, swim with sharks and see the best chefs at work. Discovery VR content is viewable online, but works best through a phone and Google Cardboard, or Samsung Gear via Milk VR.
Samsung Milk VR
Samsung’s Milk VR is basically a movie dedicated app, but also offers interactive VR tours of places like Italy, New York City, Chicago and much more. For now, only the Gear VR version of the app is compatible with the headset, the Gear VR headset specifically. The Android version unfortunately doesn’t support Google Cardboard viewers, and just shows a video that enables you to see in all directions by moving your phone around or swiping the screen.
All YouTube videos are watchable in a virtual reality mode on Android phones. Type in your destination name in the search bar with ‘vr’, ’360’ at the end to search and filter for 360 videos. Videos with the cardboard symbol situated at the bottom right of the screen or top right have the feature. On Gear VR headsets, the mechanism is to use the internet browser app on Samsung devices and surf the VR videos on YouTube. For now, there is no support for iOS devices.
Orbulus brings together 360-degree panoramic photos and combines them with sound loops to produce a “stuck in time” effect. The videos for Orbulus include the functionality to experience events like the fireworks on New Year’s Eve on Hong Kong Harbor, witness the Northern Lights in Norway and even virtualize standing on Mars. Find your way simply by looking, with no controllers or buttons needed.
Sites in VR
To engage tourists and engage youngsters, popular landmarks now have their own personal VR videos- with panoramic photos of places in Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Syria, Kuwait, Yemen, Holland, Macedonia, France and Belgium, the user interface is extremely friendly but unfortunately the quality of the photos are not interactive as yet. This too requires no buttons or separate controllers and works simply by looking.
Watch endless streams of Flickr photos in 360-degree virtual reality on your Gear VR headset. This function is not as yet available for androids and iPhones, so you can check this feature out on the Orbulus app.
Single Destination Apps
Other than the apps listed above, a lot of developers are creating virtual reality tours open for public of cities all over the world. You can take a stroll in London, sight see in Cyprus, or spend a romantic evening in Paris. If you don’t have the luxuries to plan holidays to all your favorite spots, simply transport yourself there virtually. You always have the choice of searching for your choice destination with the keyword “VR” at the end of it.
It is understandable that travelling is expensive. And while nothing beats the actual experience, you can always get away from the humdrum of daily life at no cost at all. With Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear, you can convert any smartphone into a virtual reality machine. VR Travel apps allow you to have a feel of the place- be it a resort, a museum, a hotel or a city, before you actually splurge on the trip. Or it may just replace the whole thing altogether!