Or is it still at the gimmick stage?

Last month the Marriott hotel chain introduced its new ‘VRoom Service’, offering guests room-service delivery of a virtual reality kit comprising a Samsung Gear VR headset, smartphone and a pair of headphones.
The devices are preloaded with three different 360-degree 3D ‘virtual visits’ and take guests to an ice cream shop in Rwanda, the Andes Mountains in Chile and the streets of Beijing. The two-minute ‘VR Postcards’ videos feature real travellers who share their stories about how much they value exploring other countries, cultures and experiences.

Michael Dail, Marriott Hotel’s VP of global marketing, describes the program as ‘uniquely combining storytelling and technology’ and says that the headsets are ‘the newest way of enhancing the in-room guest experience.’

It is an interesting idea but, having played with this stuff personally, I really can’t see anyone using it more than once as it stands. It’s the sort of gimmick that people might be tempted to try out just because they are curious, but I don’t think it actually adds any real value yet.

It is early days, though, and the future of this stuff could well be more interesting. One obvious idea is that properties could use the technology as a means of viewing their rooms and meeting spaces remotely. At the moment, the required headsets are still very rare, so it would be limited to exhibitions, but I do think that in the future it could work.

However, the technology still has a fair way to go before that can happen, because although you can look around while the video plays, the interactivity to allow you to wander freely around a virtual building isn’t there yet.

That’s also not to say that virtual reality tours could replace the physical viewing of an event space. If the tech is to have any place in the meetings industry, it would be when an organiser is pulling together a shortlist of possible venues – a preview of sorts.

As an industry, we’ve come to learn how various technologies can lead to deception. Photographs of venues may be out of date, can be altered or shot in such a way that rooms look larger or better than they truly are. Videos are perhaps more truthful in some respects but they may only show certain aspects or miss out key information. VR is just another way of seeing a snapshot of reality.

Should venues be looking to implement virtual reality as a tour of available spaces when the technology allows? I think so and I hope the technology continues to be pushed forward in our industry. VR has been ‘one to watch’ in the events sphere for a couple of years now and it is nice that it’s heading towards being useful.

As for tours of other locations from your hotel room, I say go out and really explore where you are and treat the virtual reality as a gimmick.