Destination British Columbia is one of the first travel agencies in North America to introduce a virtual reality experience to consumers. It invested some $500,000 to create a virtual reality production called “The Wild Within VR Experience,” which takes consumers on a coastal adventure and a trek into the rainforest.
“VR video gives such an immersive sense of place that we really felt that it’s a natural fit with promoting a destination as a place to visit,” said Janice Greenwood-Fraser, manager of travel media relations for Destination BC. “We wanted to be an innovator in the tourism environment to share with not only consumers, but also with travel industry and other opinion leaders that this is a powerful tool for promoting destinations.”
The virtual reality experience resembles an amusement park ride.The Oculus Rift headgear is placed over the user’s head, along with headphones. Upon first use, the user can see two screens — one for each eye — but as the video starts both screens blend into one. Suddenly the user is surrounded by water, trees and sea lions.
It’s a a 360-degree panorama. A user can look up or down, even spin, and they’ll see it all. The camera also switches back and forth between first- and third-person point of view.
“It feels authentic and it feels real,” Fraser said.
The footage was recorded with HD GoPro cameras attached to a 3-D printed spherical rig. A hexacopter drone was also used to capture aerial shots.
Destination BC is focusing on releasing its promotional video at the moment, but will be creating more productions that feature other locations and activities in British Columbia, Fraser said.
“Or even experiences such as skiing,” said Mika Ryan, media relations for Destination BC. “British Columbia is such a big, diverse place. The sky is really the limit. There are so many stories that we can tell.”
The promotional video will first be distributed by travel channels. When the Oculus Rift rolls out for consumers in 2015, the video will be available for everyone with a device.
Aside from Destination BC, Marriott hotels are also using the Oculus Rift to give customers tours of their hotels. Other hotels and travel agencies are also looking into implementing virtual reality into their marketing.
At the moment, the Oculus Rift is only on sale for developers for $350. The consumer version is expected to sell for between $200 and $400.
Oculus VR, the company behind Oculus Rift, will not be the only one developing virtual reality devices or footage. Samsung and Sony will also join the bandwagon. Both Samsung Gear VR and Sony’s Project Morpheus are expected to also be released in 2015.