By Tom Mcloughlin, Founder, SEO Travel
Virtual reality is a topic generating a lot of hype at the moment, with the majority of industries considering the ways that this technology can be applied to their offering. Travel is no exception, which is where the concept of virtual tourism comes from.
The rapidly developing nature of VR technology can make it a very daunting prospect when it comes to considering how you can integrate this into your marketing material in order to offer your customers new and exclusive experiences. You may also be wondering how you can make the most of the trend even if you don’t have access to VR resources.
In this post, we explain what virtual tourism is and how it developed, along with six different ways that you can use the approach in your travel marketing strategy.
What is Virtual Tourism?
Virtual tourism is any experience that allows individuals to explore new locations without having to actually travel to them. It combines aspects of virtual reality with tourism principles and allows for a range of immersive experiences that involve devices ranging from mobile phones to VR headsets.
We tend to think of virtual tourism as focusing on sharing experiences of destinations in the here and now, which is predominantly what the approach is used for. However, virtual tourism can also include experiences that show the participants a location in another time or even a place that doesn’t actually exist.
The concept of virtual tourism has been developing for a while now, but really came into its own in 2020 when COVID-19 travel restrictions meant that very few people were able to go on holiday. Being able to virtually ‘travel’ to new destinations provided much-needed escapism and inspired plenty of travel brands to consider ways that they could create immersive experiences for their customers.
Whilst the world has opened back up again now, virtual reality technology has kept on advancing and virtual tourism is a trend that continues to develop within the travel industry. Fully immersive experiences with VR headsets are often the most advertised form of this kind of tourism, but there are plenty of other approaches that brands can use in their marketing strategy.
6 Virtual Tourism Marketing Approaches
As well as classic approaches to virtual tourism, our suggestions also include ways you can take elements of this approach and use them in new ways as part of your marketing strategy to expand your reach and engage your audience.
Create Bitesize Experiences with Short Videos
Short form video is getting a lot of attention right now for being one of the most popular content formats used across almost every industry. Customers’ attention spans are shorter than ever, so instead of creating content that is long and very immersive, consider how you can offer virtual experiences through short video clips.
Platforms like Instagram and TikTok are ideal places to create 10-15 second videos that transport the viewer to a new destination and help them to imagine themselves there. Focus on very appealing and aesthetic visuals to inspire the desire to visit in person, and use audio or text in the video to capture a specific mood or experience.
Short videos can also be really useful to use in email content or on your website in areas where you are trying to prompt the customer to make a booking. Perhaps you use clips of the experiences your business offers next to a call to action or on pages where customers can browse prices or availability, or you embed short videos into your email content to break up the text and provide a visual incentive to make a booking.
Showcase 360° Views of Accommodation
If you’re a travel business that offers accommodation then using virtual tourism tactics in your marketing efforts can be incredibly effective.
When you’re trying to pitch a place to stay on holiday, the majority of brands will use photos and written descriptions, potentially with a short video of certain areas if they’ve got the resources to do so. We recommend that you take this a step further and use software that allows you to create a virtual tour where viewers control what they see themselves and have 360° access to a virtual space.
This kind of technology can be costly to set up, but it’s a huge asset to have on your website that allows potential customers to navigate a virtual space as they decide whether they’d like to stay there in real life. Giving the viewer the power to move and ‘look’ where they want makes the whole experience much more immersive and engaging, which helps inspire more of a desire to visit as well as being a memorable experience on a travel brand’s website.
You also have the option of producing PR campaigns with this kind of technology by creating virtual treasure hunts in your online tours, which will drive much more traffic to your website as well as increase brand exposure.
Share Experiences with Vlogs and Tours
If the kind of technology mentioned above isn’t available to you, you can still create a very similar experience by giving your audience virtual tours of a location or accommodation using video. This content can be shared on your website or social media channels like Instagram and Facebook, as well as uploading it to YouTube and establishing a presence on this platform.
In order to make these videos as immersive and engaging as possible, focus on appealing to your audience’s senses as much as possible, using crisp sound and appealing images but also using visuals that evoke memories of touch, taste and smell.
Another successful approach involves creating ‘vlog’ style videos that have a narrator speaking to the camera and acting as a guide. This direct address will instantly make the audience feel more engaged and help the tour to feel like more of an experience, especially if it’s filmed as if the camera is another person.
Partner with an Attraction and Offer a Virtual Tour
A great way to utilise virtual tourism as part of a marketing partnership is to work with an attraction that links to the travel experience service offered by your business. This could be a cultural venue near your hotel, a historic site in the location you focus on, or even an activity provider that you know your target audience will like.
Then, work with your partner to create a virtual version of the experience they offer, whether that’s a tour of a museum, an exclusive look at something on display, a talk with an expert or a virtual reality experience that imitates an activity. It’s even better if your virtual experience is exclusive, but this isn’t necessary as you’re still giving viewers in another location a chance to enjoy something they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.
You can use and market this virtual experience in a variety of ways. It might be an exclusive offer for customers that make a booking with you. It might be the focus of a PR campaign that generates more interest for you and the business you’ve partnered with. It might just be a fun piece of content on your website or social media profile, with the added incentive that viewers who interact with it receive a discount or are entered into a competition.
The kind of technology and resources you have available will impact the scale this can be done on, but it’s still a really great method of bringing something new to a classic piece of partnership marketing.
Create Immersive Audio Experiences
A lot of virtual tourism experiences tend to focus on visual content, but sound is another fantastic medium that can be incredibly immersive. If you don’t have the resources to create a video tour, you can use pretty basic technology to put together a high-quality piece of audio that can be used to help transport the listener to a particular location.
There are many things you can do with audio, from simply putting together soundscapes of different environments to recording stories that guide the listener through a location. You could also record interviews with local people or employees and share advice or stories about a destination, although the emphasis should be on storytelling and not on creating a podcast-style episode.
Audio is a great format for marketing in the travel industry because it can be consumed almost anywhere, which allows you to reach your target audience at any time. The transportive quality of audio content also lends itself to travel content because you can inspire wanderlust in potential customers whilst they’re doing other, potentially less enjoyable things, which will strengthen the desire to book a trip somewhere else.
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Utilise VR Technology
Finally, we couldn’t finish this list without actually talking about the use of virtual reality in travel and tourism. This isn’t an option for all travel companies, but if you can access the technology then it’s an incredibly effective way to give potential customers a taste of what they could experience if they book a trip or experience with you.
VR technology often works using things like headsets that fully immerse the viewer in a virtual world that they can explore and interact with. This way, you can transport them to you target destination or a digital version of your holiday accommodation and create a fully interactive experience
You can offer this experience through hosting events that share the equipment with attendees, sharing the virtual world with customers that have VR devices themselves, or creating more accessible versions that work on phones or computers.
VR is still a developing kind of technology which means there’s still quite a lot of excitement around the experiences it offers, which is great if you want to create a PR campaign as a marketing strategy. The applications of the technology are vast, so it’s a great route to go down if you’re looking to create a new kind of marketing content that will really help you stand out from your competitors.
What are the Benefits of Virtual Tourism?
Perhaps the biggest benefit of virtual tourism is that it allows people to experience new destinations without having to physically travel there. Not only does this help more people to widen their experience of the world and get insight into new cultures, landscapes and locations, but it also makes travel much more accessible for those that may not be able to enjoy it otherwise.
From a business perspective, virtual tourism can massively boost sales for several different reasons. Firstly, immersive experiences offered by virtual tourism are much more likely to spark a real desire to visit a place for a potential customer, as they will have been able to fully imagine themselves there and (hopefully) want to recreate the experience.
Virtual tourism can also be a really useful way of helping customers decide whether they’re going to enjoy a travel experience. If they’re indecisive, a virtual taste of what’s available can help them make up their mind faster, which in turn can increase conversion rates.
You may also reach a wider audience by offering virtual travel opportunities than you would through other approaches. If you’re just advertising trips and holidays then you’re only going to appeal to people that actually want to travel, whereas brands showcasing virtual experiences will be engaged with by a larger audience.
Virtual travel experiences also come with the benefit that they are better for the environment as they don’t require transportation to bring tourists from one location to another. They can also be very useful for countries that are impacted by over-tourism, as they generate interest in a place whilst limiting the number of people that actually travel there.
The potential applications of virtual tourism are incredibly exciting, as technology helps us to push the boundaries of the kinds of experiences we can offer travellers all over the world. This kind of technology is likely to integrate into our lives more and more over the next few years, so starting to use a ‘virtual’ approach in your marketing strategy is a great way to ensure that you stay ahead of the curve and are offering your audience content experiences that are more engaging than your competitors.
If you’re looking for advice on marketing approaches like virtual tourism, or want help developing an unbeatable marketing strategy, get in touch with SEO Travel for a chat and to find out more about the range of marketing services that we offer.