New Normals

How a Czech travel business used VR to thrive despite Covid 19

29 October 2020

By Fola Enifeni

Since the pandemic has made it impossible to travel or even move about freely locally, people have sought other means to escape the current reality, a substitute for the real thing. We have seen a rise in staycations by 127%, according to Travel Daily Media, as travellers make do with local destinations. Brands like Nordic Spirit have also taken advantage of this trend, hosting a Nordic escape right in the centre of London.  

Another substitute we’ve seen would-be adventurers turn into for escapism is virtual reality (VR) travel experiences. VR isn’t new nor is it new within travel, however, while it has been used in the past as a trailer or sales tool for the real thing, making it the entirety of the experience is a huge jump. Like it did for QR codes, the pandemic has revived the interest in and adoption of it; from tours of zoos and museums, to house viewings, car showrooms and now travel. 

During the lockdown, Sygic Travel which primarily sold digital destination guides to travellers, offered virtual tours of popular destinations, an undertaking that saved the enterprise according to Barbora Nevosádová, head of business development at Sygic Travel. VR Filmmaker Tarik Mohamad has also been offering travel experiences as he takes travellers on a virtual journey while sharing stories behind the destinations such as The Great Pyramids of Egypt, and other landmarks across Paris, Italy, London, New York City, Brooklyn and more. Other VR experience of tourist attractions like The Great Wall of China, Sistine Chapel in Vatican City and even Buckingham Palace all gained traction with 86% positive sentiment according to Netbase.  

VR can be much more than an innovation gimmick; it can drive real value for consumers and create a true Shared Experience. 

Even though we are seeing an exciting use of VR within travel, it is unrealistic to assume that a 10minute VR experience – which in itself is long enough considering side effects like nausea, and intense nature of it due to the focus on only two senses will replace a week-long stay in Marbella. Instead, it could serve a purpose for more pointed sightings like experiencing Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe-Zambia border, or the painted caves in the south of France. 

This role for VR within travel could also relieve cities that have struggled under the pressure of overtourism. As the flow of people to popular tourist destinations brought about inflation of rent prices and overcrowding, locals have taken to the street to protest, and local authorities have responded by limiting or outrightly refusing to issue permits to tourist-centric businesses. VR offers us a sustainable way to experience these sights without overburdening the locals. Not to mention it might even help reduce the global carbon footprint, by deciding which holidays warrant physical travel and which landmarks can be enjoyed from the comfort of our homes? 

VR experiences will not replace inperson ones. Their long-term success will be determined by the role carved out for it within the travel industry. The artificial and “produced” nature of VR means it is intrinsically in conflict with one of the core reason people travel “to see things firsthand for themselves”. But what brands like Sygic have proven is that with the right VR strategy, it can be much more than an innovation gimmick; it can drive real value for consumers and create a true Shared Experience.  

New Normals is a content series focused on the rapid evolution of the experience economy in response to the global pandemic. TRO, the brand experience agency, in collaboration with the global network of Omnicom Experiential Group, will share weekly stories and insights from around the world.