A COMPLETE GUIDE TO VR TOURS
Virtual reality tours and VR technology, in general, have been growing in all aspects over the past few years, but 2020 has launched this technology into the forefront by requiring us all to reexamine how we experience the world around us. What used to be just a topic for science fiction movies from decades ago is just a click away from being a real experience.
Virtual reality might not be what you imagined. Its uses go beyond entering fictional worlds. Now VR technology has the power to connect us with real-life experiences just as much as video games and movies.
And during the past year, during a pandemic which has trapped most of us in our homes with no clear outlet for our wanderlust, the VR world comes to show us that a crisis can be an opportunity. While they aren’t exactly a solution, virtual reality tours are a unique type of experience that deserves a spot on your list of must-dos.
In this article, we’ll guide you through some questions you might have about the world of virtual reality tours, how they work, how much they cost, what a tour looks like, and more. Keep reading to find an answer!
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE WITH WATCHING A TRAVEL VIDEO?
As you can imagine, the key difference between a virtual reality tour and a travel video can be reduced to two important words, engagement and experience. There are thousands of travel videos exploring national parks, beaches, and museum exhibitions, but with a virtual tour, you get a 360º tour. This allows you to do something not possible with a regular video, explore the complete environment the tour is set in.
HOW DO VIRTUAL REALITY TOURS WORK?
Apart from the technology involved, in a virtual reality tour, you will count on a trained guide that knows exactly how to show you the area and will tell you the story behind every step you take. It can be a pre-recorded tour or a live stream that is done in real-time. The pre-recorded tour option allows you to do a walkthrough of a site like you can with Google Arts & Culture. Some give you just the setting to look at, and others, like The VR Voyage, integrate interactive elements into these scenes.
Once a tour starts, whether it is a walking tour of New York City or a tour of an interior space like the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, your guide will introduce you to what you see, give you a brief description and tell you what you can do while you explore the area together. Once in the tour you can use the 360° functions to explore at your own pace. Depending on the platform your tour is on, you can interact with various features for added exploration, and listen to your guide as you discover new and amazing things.
Now you might be wondering what do you need to participate, and yes a VR headset would surely take the experience to a new level, but you don’t need to invest a lot into these. Many tours work with the latest iOs for your iPhone and likewise on Android devices. With a small investment into a mobile adaptor like Google Cardboard, you can turn your smartphone into a VR headset. Even a desktop screen can be used to take a virtual tour. So while it’s still a good idea you don’t need to upgrade your gear to enjoy this experience.
WILL IT HAVE THE SAME IMPACT?
This is a question that everyone asks when thinking about VR tours, especially if they have months trapped at home. What is the point if you can’t interact with anything, right? Well, it is true, a virtual tour will never be the same as experiencing something in-person, but it can be a great way to explore somewhere you wouldn’t be able to see normally, or even go behind-the-scenes where the public isn’t usually allowed. No matter how you experience it, a virtual tour will leave a lasting memory in its way.
There are some points in favour of a virtual reality tour, first of all, many real-life experiences aren’t that tactile, to begin with. No, you can’t touch that 500-year-old sculpture at the museum. Priceless remnants of past cultures have been damaged by reckless tourists trying to take the experience too far, not to mention environmental damage. Virtual reality tours allow many to enjoy the experience while protecting the environment and history. Institutions like the Smithsonian or Louvre have more items in storage than on display, but with virtual tours, those items can be on showcase virtually without needing to remove them from their protective storage for more than a single day.
Another point worth mentioning is the fact that VR tours allow you to reduce the amount of planning needed. You don’t need plane tickets, a place to stay, a complicated schedule, or anything you normally would to see a foreign destination. You can take a tour through a museum in Canada and take another one along the coast of Ireland an hour later.
WHAT CAN I EXPLORE THROUGH A VR TOUR?
Now we get to one of the most exciting points. There is no limit to the type of experience you can have with a virtual tour. Whatever interests you in the world, there is likely a virtual experience that will let you explore it.
Walking The Great Wall of China, trekking through the Amazon, exploring the canals of Venice, there are a number of classic tour types, but what about climbing into the canopy, or descending under the waves to see the ocean depths, or getting access to off-limits archaeological sites to see a side of history not many get to? Now with virtual reality, the opportunity to take a guided tour like this is just a click away. You won’t even have to deal with the huge crowds.
The list goes on, from museums to haunted houses, coral reefs to volcanoes, take your time to research and you will find the right experience for you.
HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?
You can expect different price structures on each tour and from different businesses. Some brands charge up to $100USD for a live virtual tour, while others offer free experiences. Generally a new experience through a virtual tour can be found for the same price as your favourite takeaway.
The price is dependant on the tour creator, the complexity of the tour and the number of interactive elements within each. The VR Voyage tours, for example, range from 50-100 minutes and have many scenes and interactive elements to explore. Some virtual tours are simply Google Street View inside a building. It depends on what type of experience you are looking for.
WHAT TECHNOLOGY IS INVOLVED?
We don’t have to work for NASA to understand virtual reality. The technology goes back a number of years, almost 30 years to be exact with the Virtual Reality Modeling Language, but it is a very approachable technology these days.
Now, thanks to smartphones, virtual reality is within the reach of most people. We use headsets that use gyroscopes and sensors to keep track of the movement of our heads and screens to create the immersive experience. This modern description of a VR headset became relatively affordable and allowed developers to create their own, like the Oculus Rift
VR headset or none, virtual tours can still be enjoyed with a mobile or a desktop. The technology allows for any type of equipment to be utilised.
HOW DO VR TOURS BENEFIT THE INDUSTRY?
For those of you who worry about the health of the tourism industry and the communities that depend on it, the availability of virtual reality tours represents great news. Why? Because virtual reality allows tourism businesses the opportunity to capitalise on what used to be a disadvantage.
Tourism survives on the desire to explore, to discover new experiences, learn about other cultures, or just be away from your daily routine for a few days. All this is a constant in human societies all over the world, but it has always been affected by factors that limit the reach of the industry. First of all, tourism requires people to travel, travel can be expensive and time-consuming especially with daily life compromises like work. So people tend to travel during certain seasons like summer, others during school holidays, or even weekends if the place is close. That is why cities like Paris are packed with tourists during holidays.
While the tourism industry has more than enough experience dealing with the high season vs low season, this puts them in a very delicate and unstable situation. A change in the balance between both can cause severe problems to businesses and regions that depend on tourism, virtual tours can open a window of opportunity to help the industry keep a healthy source of income.
Safety concerns won’t be a problem if tourist can stay at home while taking the tour. Platforms like The VR Voyage work with local partners to create tours that provide revenue for local businesses and institutions. Busy people can pay for a tour and explore no matter the season, and people with smaller budgets now have the ability to experience every corner of the globe.
With some extra work, even the stores that sell souvenirs could capitalize on virtual tours connecting the service with an e-commerce solution.
IS TOURISM THE ONLY USE FOR VR TOURS?
Virtual tours are useful for multiple industries apart from tourism, one of them is the real estate industry. Real estate agents need to show properties to their clients and turn them into potential buyers, for that they need to show key aspects of each room on the property like colour, materials used, current conservation state, along with many other characteristics that can tell a potential buyer if the property is right for them or not.
A basic video can help, yes, but to capture that level of detail and allow an agent to make an effective tour that could convert those prospects they need a tour, or better yet, a VR tour.
Another example would be education, universities offer virtual tours across their campuses so students can explore and see with their own eyes how university life will be if they choose one over the other. Choosing the right option isn’t easy, and with the current global situation, the process is particularly difficult, especially for students that live in a distant location and need to think about travel before being able to take a tour.
IS VR THE END OF IN-PERSON TOURS?
Occasionally, when new technology appears the first thing that comes to mind is that it will replace the older version. Sometimes this is true. But, travelling is a priceless experience that can’t be replaced and, even if new technology can make some aspects easier the thrill of an in-person experience can never totally be replaced.
This, far from hurting the industry, creates new opportunities for reaching wider audiences. Tour operators can reach a bigger and more stable audience throughout the year and not only during the high season. Stores can include e-commerce to create new customers and connect with people that enjoyed a local VR tour. The environment and destinations are better preserved, and travellers can explore different locations even during busy or difficult times, or even take a look and decide for a place to travel from a series of options.
Institutions like museums can enjoy the benefit too, and self-guided tours are an opportunity to offer a “free trial” to attract more guests even if they aren’t big enough to justify a standalone product.
One of the joys of travelling is exploring unknown destinations and building connections. During busy or difficult times like the ones we’re living right now travelling and building these connections becomes a challenge. Given current technology and our human need for contact, connections, learning, and experiences, we found a series of workarounds and solutions that allows us to overcome these challenges.
Virtual reality tours are one of these solutions, we can get access to experiences that are in different continents without leaving our rooms. Too busy, not enough budget, or in the middle of a pandemic? You can still explore the world from your computer or phone screen.
Tourism, institutions, historical places, world heritage sites, everyone can enjoy the benefits of VR technology to open a new source of income or implement a new channel to convert prospects into clients that know exactly where they want to go on their next vacation.