One of today’s hottest technology trends is the use of augmented and virtual reality. Recent news of impending product launches by Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Sony have propelled interest. Firstly, let’s understand what’s meant by the terminology. Augmented Reality ( AR ) involves overlaying digital information on the real-world view of people. This can be achieved using an app on a mobile phone or tablet, or using a special pair of glasses. Users look through their screens to see an overlay of digital information – this can be in various formats; text, video, audio or 3D animations. Sony have just announced the upcoming launch of a pair of AR glasses, and of course Google Glass has been around for a couple of years now in developer format. While it has been withdrawn from general sales, the plan is to completely redesign it for a later consumer launch.
There are numerous ways that this technology can be used in the hospitality sector. For example the check-in experience of guests could be improved by developing or incorporating an app which could allow guests to find their rooms easily by simply following an overlay set of arrows on their phone display. The same app would allow all print material to be instantly translated – Google have already developed WordLens to allow this – a big bonus for international visitors when reading the menus for example. But it’s not just text that can be displayed. Artwork in high end hotels could be viewed through an AR app, allowing guests to see video overlays of the artist interpreting their work. The use of GPS in smartphones also allows exciting opportunities for overlaying information in real-time and location specific. Hotels, in cooperation with tourism authorities, can help to create interactive tours of destinations.
Tourists can get overlay information on the attractions and street-scape in a myriad of languages. This is attractive from a heritage preservation perspective – no need to put distracting signage that may not be in harmony with the surroundings. As well as enhancing the guest experience, AR technology will have a big impact on hotel operations. One area that is particularly promising is training. Already some companies are prototyping AR to help in areas such as menu preparation and table service. Trainees wearing a set of AR enabled glasses, can match their table settings perfectly with the designated table layout which is overlaid in their field of view, or follow a set of instructions for guest registration in similar fashion. AR is also making huge strides in architecture. Developers will be able to ‘see’ hotel buildings in-situ on construction sites, and virtually travel through the proposed space – already Scottish company Soluis have used this technology to help the designers of the new Radisson Red hotel brand visualize the layout of the bars and meeting spaces.
And of course AR has huge potential in marketing. Brochures that are distributed can come to life in 3D for respondents – this year P+O Cruises have incorporated the technology in their direct mail pieces. AR can be used to create opportunities for social sharing – a vital part of any hotel’s marketing strategy these days. In a recent campaign in the US, Best Western guests were able to point the hotel’s app’s viewfinder at specially-marked lobby standees to make them come alive with characters from Disney Channel’s highly-anticipated Teen Beach Movie. Virtual Reality ( VR ) is the cousin of AR. While it’s been around for several decades, and is familiar to anyone with an X-Box or Playstation, innovations in wearable devices are set to power charge VR outside the realm of the gaming sector. While AR allows the user to remain connected to the real-world, VR essentially submerges users in a virtual space. The technology has received a huge boost in the form of Oculus Rift, a VR device company which was acquired by Facebook for $2bn. The Rift headset covers users eyes completely and that’s where the fun starts. Already users of the developer version have been able to enjoy a myriad of virtual experiences. The tourism and hospitality potential is huge. Imagine being able to peer over the Europe’s tallest cliffs and maybe abseil down them – perfectly possible with this technology. Or get a real sense of what it would be like to drive along part of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way…no wonder tourism authorities are excited at the opportunity the technology allows them to showcase their destinations in a more immersive way – expect to see this technology become commonplace at tourism fairs and showcases in the next few years.
And hotels are getting in on the act too. Marriott Hotels recently launched a consumer PR promotion in New York targeting honeymooners, where they set up an Oculus Rift kiosk outside a marriage registry office. The happy couples who emerged were invited to try on the Rift, and got the chance to walk around the lobby of one of the chain’s London hotel, or to experience a beach-front walk on one of their Hawaii properties. While there have been a few false dawns for AR and VR technologies, it’s clear that now is the time for hoteliers and restauranteurs to find out how they can get a competitive edge.