Emmanuel Shamoun, Gettys Group director of consulting, views VR renderings of a project his team is leading at the Marriott Lincolnshire near Chicago.
Want to effectively reach lots of potential hotel customers in a visually engaging way? Virtual reality technology might not get you there – yet, says Benji Greenberg.
“Everyone is pretty much a novice” regarding the technology, said Greenberg, CEO of BCV, a Chicago-based social media management and strategy company. “The b-to-b application seems to be performing better than the b-to-c activations.”
Gettys Group would agree: The hotel design and branding company is leveraging the technology to share designs with clients. Chris McDonough, a Chicago-based Gettys principal, said VR is helping them collaborate more effectively with clients. “It’s much more powerful and clear when you can immerse yourself in the space,” he said.
Is it really VR?
“When you think of the concept of virtual reality, it’s really just meant to be a virtual space that you can interact with someone through. You affect the world you’re in,” Greenberg said. More casually, VR often refers to 360-degree videos viewable on a high-tech headset or a lower-tech smartphone mounted on cardboard goggles.
Those headsets – rather, the lack of them – keep VR out of the reach of the average consumer, said Martin Soler, managing partner at Barcelona-based technology and branding consulantcy Soler & Associates. A travel agent willing to invest in VR gear could convert visiting customers; so could a new hotel brand at a trade show. But the average customer sitting at a computer, sorting through a plethora of hotel choices, probably won’t put on a pair of 3-D goggles to make a final decision, Soler said. “There isn’t an order of magnitude improvement in experience that would justify that level of friction.” In short, it has to be something worth looking at.
“Today, if I were to recommend a virtual reality video for a (hotel) property, I would try to push them toward something that was very unique and high-quality,” Greenberg said, and use the resulting footage primarily as a 360-degree video on Facebook, which recently launched a VR app that offers a more immersive viewing experience.
Last year, Gettys Group used VR on a Marriott-branded project that involved a “dramatic renovation approach” where the options included tearing down and starting over or working with the existing building. Either way, the goal was to save money for the client. “It was the best way for us to show the before and after,” McDonough said. “One goal was to answer the question of how best do we achieve what the brand is looking for with the client and guest without having to start over.”
Another Gettys project with a VR component is at the Marriott Lincolnshire Resort outside Chicago, in which the company is a part-owner. The lobby renovation will add an M Club and coffee shop, and overhaul an original, circa-1970s restaurant.
“It really helps the clients get it. It’s easier for them to point things out and say, ‘that’s really amazing,’ or ‘that corner does look a little bare, what should we do about it?’ It’s more interactive and engaging of a process for us to talk about the design,” McDonough said.
McDonough sees a lot of potential for VR in allowing clients to interact with potential designs, or showing them “reality-based” ways that lighting can change in a space over the course of a day, or how spaces – like a hotel lobby with coffee service in the morning and a bar setup at night – can accommodate changing requirements. New-build hotels can use the VR results to sell meeting and ballroom spaces before the brick-and-mortar spaces are ready. “The technology is getting there, but for us it’s not just about selling the design but collaborating and designing with our clients,” he said.
For consumers, the next iteration could be the ability to take a virtual tour with a hotel representative, Greenberg said.
“I believe travel will always grow as long as we can reduce the friction to getting there,” Soler said. “If we can have VR as a trigger for crazy or interesting destinations, that’s great.”
Last summer St Giles Hotels enticed guests and social influencers to record experiences around its hotels with a 360-degree camera as part of a campaign to connect guests to the cities where the hotels are located. Abigail Tan-Giroud, head of U.K., Europe and North America for St Giles, talks about the “Be Central, Be St Giles” campaign, which resulted in VR videos of sites like the London Eye and Penang Hill, now accessible via website and mobile app.
HOTELS: Why did you decide to use VR?
Abigail Tan-Giroud: We wanted this phase of our campaign to be fun, engaging, interactive, as well as cutting-edge and memorable. More important, we wanted it be guest-focused, to let them drive the narrative, and see how they experience the city, which drives our core brand experience. VR checked all of the above.
H: Videos show a hotel’s location, not the hotel itself. Why?
ATG: Each of our hotels is in our portfolio due in part to its location. Our aim with St Giles 360 was to have our guests tell us, or rather show us, if we are indeed placing them closest to where they want to be. In these videos our guests connect to each other and to travelers while strengthening the connection of each St Giles hotel to the city.
H: You didn’t set financial ROI goals; are you seeing other results?
ATG: We were inspired by the footage our guests captured to create themed packages with complimentary access to key activities and places of interest featured in the films. This allowed us to generate revenue that wasn’t initially part of the campaign.
H: How has your marketing evolved as a result?
ATG: We obtained a deeper insight into the importance of directly engaging with our guests and listening to their voices. Instead of a campaign that said, ‘This is how you should experience the city,’ we said, ‘Show us what is important to you and how you experience the city your way.’
H: Are you using VR in other ways?
ATG: We are enhancing our concierge services with VR headgear and 360 videos, so when a guest asks about a place or an experience in one of our cites, we can immerse them in the experience for at least 30 seconds. We are exploring ‘room-scale VR’ that will allow the user to physically walk around a space built in VR, for example walking up to the T-Rex in the Natural History Museum.
Marketing expert Martin Soler suggested that hotels considering adding a VR dimension to marketing campaigns answer some key questions:
- * Is the destination, not just the hotel, worth a 3-D tour?
- * Can the 3-D experience resonate emotionally in terms of thrill, romance or drama?
- * Are reservations coming from travel agents or shows, or physical spaces that can accommodate quality 3-D viewing?
- * Is the investment in a fast-changing technology justified?
Take your (360-degree) shot
Benji Greenberg’s tips for 360-degree videos:
- * Your customers will be wearing a headset, so limit videos to less than five minutes.
- * Do more than the typical hotel tour: “Don't put the GM in there to talk about the amenities for 20 minutes.”
- * Keep the quality high; poorly shot video reflects poorly on your brand.
- * Post the results on Facebook, whose VR offerings are evolving quickly.