How Marriott's Virtual Reality Technology Could Change Travel in the Future

by  Laura Motta | Sep 11, 2015
Samsung virtual reality headset at the New York Marriott Marquis
Samsung virtual reality headset at the New York Marriott Marquis / Laura Motta

Last October, I wrote about Marriott’s efforts to use virtual reality technology in some of its hotels. At the time, it was somewhat unclear how the hotel brand was planning to find practical, day-to-day applications with this new toy -- which admittedly, is pretty impressive and fun to use. Their commitment to it continues with a new initiative at two of its properties, the New York Marriott Marquis, and the London Marriott Park Lane, that will run over the coming weeks. With the launch of “VRoom Service,” guests at these two hotels can borrow an headset, which includes a viewer and headphones, that's preloaded with “travel postcards.” The postcards put users into three travel destinations: Chile’s Andes mountains, a street corner in Bejing, and a patio in front of an ice cream shop in Rwanda. Non-hotel guests can view the postcards too, via the Samsung Milk VR premium video service on the Samsung Gear VR headset.

The postcards are beautiful to look at, and the virtual reality experience feels seamless and detailed. Look down toward your feet? You’ll see a rocky, grassy terrain or a curb. Look up? You’ll see colorful street signs and the top of buildings. Each postcard is "hosted" by young entrepreneurs who provide context on the destination from a traveler’s perspective -- they can be “seated” beside you at a table, or even behind you, so you’ll have to spin around to hear and see them while you look out onto the scene.

Michael Dail, VP of Global Brand Marketing at Marriott, said that the brand is currently getting feedback on its virtual reality program, and is considering more day-to-day applications for the future. Although Marriott’s plans are not set in stone, some immediate benefits come to mind. Here are three that I spoke to him about, all under consideration:

See a virtual room before you book. The headset itself -- minus the Samsung Galaxy smartphone that powers it and provides the display -- isn’t an expensive piece of equipment. It costs about $200, meaning that the technology will likely have wider use in the future (as in, you'll be able to afford to have one at home). How does that matter? Imagine being able to “walk” into a hotel room and experience its dimensions, layout, and contents right from your living room. You could compare a suite to a double or gauge the distance from your room to the pool -- actions that could help you assess value in a hyper-realistic way.

Look at event spaces for a wedding, party, or conference. Future brides and grooms and office event planners alike will be excited about this. Imagine how much time could be saved by touring a virtual ballroom or meeting room -- or a series of 10 of them -- before actually leaving your house.

Let people “travel” when they have to stay put. Of course, it won't be the same as the real thing -- but whether it’s for someone with limited mobility or limited funds, or simply for someone who just can’t get away for a vacation, a virtual reality experience can give users some of the transformative feeling of travel without leaving home. Dail mentioned that the technology had recently been used with patients at a children’s hospital in Asia, and that the possibilities are endless.

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