Marriott Hotels is taking the concept of “travel” to a whole new level. Thanks to their new virtual reality room service, physically checking into a new locale is only one way to take a trip. In the new version of travel, sightseers won’t even need to leave their rooms.
As part of a collaboration with Samsung, Marriott has launched the hotel industry’s first-ever in-room virtual reality (VR) experience, reports Condé Nast Traveler. The initiative debuted at the Marriott Marquis Manhattan and the London Marriott Park Lane. Guests at these establishments can now order “VRoom Service”—which consists of a virtual reality headset and headphones—straight to their rooms. And that’s when the trip-within-a-trip begins.
The headsets—dubbed “VR Postcards”—currently come preloaded with virtual “postcards” from (respectively) an ice cream shop in Rwanda, the streets of Beijing, and the Andes Mountains in Chile. Users select a destination, sit back, and enjoy an immersive, 360-degree, 3D experience consisting of panoramic images and sounds from these locales. Each story follows a real traveler as they explore these destinations, and viewers experience the journey right alongside their guide.
In some ways, the move is a natural extension of what most travelers do today: research a destination (or fantasize about going there) by scoping out images and videos online. The only difference is that in this case, it actually feels like you’re there.
The Rise of a Trend
Virtual reality is increasingly catching the interest of the hotel and tourism industries. It’s not necessarily that anyone wants to replace the physical experience of traveling to a new place; instead, the idea is that allowing travelers to “sample” destinations in an intimate way will encourage them to actually go there.
To that end, the industry has been toying with a variety of approaches to the virtual travel experience. CNN reported the international travel agency Thomas Cook tried out a programthat invited customers to put on Oculus Rifts (the much-hyped virtual reality headsets originally developed for gaming) in order to experience an airplane tour of a Sentido resort. Marriott Hotels also experimented with Oculus Rift in its “Teleporter” initiative, which allowed guests to experience virtual tours of Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach in Maui and Tower 42 in London. Start-ups like Sphere and Jaunt have also gotten in on the action by offering new ways to explore and interact with potential travel destinations.
While 2014 was awash in headlines proclaiming that virtual reality would define the future of travel, those predictions have yet to play out. Of course, this could be because we’ve yet to uncover the full potential of these technologies. But while the hotel industry continues its ongoing efforts to bring cutting-edge tech to the travel experience, no one should discount travelers’ continued desire to seek out authentic, in-person experiences worldwide. In fact, more than one billion tourists traveled the globe in 2014 alone.
So while in-room virtual experiences might make for a fun anecdote for travelers arriving back home, they remain (at least for now) only part of an otherwise very real trip.
As the virtual reality trend heats up, we’d love to hear from you. Let us know whether you think virtual reality is a positive or negative travel tool by sounding off on Facebook or Twitter.