… or you feel your TripAdvisor reviews aren’t an adequate reflection of the investment you’ve made in your property, then Daniel Wishnia, Digital Marketing Consultant at GCH Hotel Group, says VR might be the solution.
I had a call with Daniel a few weeks ago and, after chatting a little while, I was struck with the possibility that VR might actually replace a website’s ‘Rooms’ pages, in the near future, as their most profitable direct booking real estate. That’s a pretty big deal, wouldn’t you agree?
So, below, I lay out why I think this is a possibility, and what this shift might mean for your revenues.
To begin, Daniel told me that back in 2005 he was one of the first marketers in Europe to start using VR as an advertising platform.
So, naturally, I asked him what first got him interested in shooting in 360°.
“The first thing is the immersed sensation you get when you’re looking at 360° images,” he told me. “And the second is what I call ‘exploratory navigation.’ It’s just a lot more enjoyable to explore a website by looking around, instead of navigating menus.”
Looking back at how computers have evolved over time, this last point makes a lot of sense.
First it was the keyboard, then the mouse came along, and that was a major breakthrough. Then touch screens were invented, and now computers are so intuitive that toddlers can use them.
So, as everything’s moving towards an easier user experience, it’s not a big leap of faith to guess that companies will start selling computers with voice control and visual exploration as standard, built-in features, as well.
Of this evolution, Daniel explains that this gives marketers a big advantage.
“When you are looking at a 360 image, the pictures are connected somehow, so you naturally start exploring. You are behaving more like a human, moving through the environment. And this gives you the impression that you are experiencing the unvarnished truth. This satisfies a guest’s need to know, before they book, helping your marketing connect on a deeper level.”
If you compare this impression to another hotel’s website, which might not even have more than 3 or 4 pictures of each room type, the advantage is clear. The more a guest knows about your property, the easier it is for them to book with confidence.
- You find yourself lowering your rates on the day of arrival
- Your ‘book direct’ efforts aren’t giving you the results you want, or
- You’re worried that ‘outsourcing’ your marketing to the OTAs might mean you’re ‘outsourcing’ your job, as well
… then this might be the competitive advantage you’ve been looking for.
Let’s go over a few of the reasons VR isn’t “just another shinny object for marketers to play with.”
“Like all new technologies,” Daniel says, “the early adopters are usually the ones who reap the biggest rewards. One of the images I put up recently on Google Street View, for example, has gotten more than 2 million views! This is amazing. But, unlike ‘views’ and ‘likes’ on social media platforms, VR helps you achieve 3 strategic goals, at the same time. And this drives direct bookings.”
- Targeted audiences
“Remember,” Daniel says, “TripAdvisor grew to become the largest travel website in the world, simply because people are hungry for reviews. But if we can give them something even better (an objective, instead of a subjective view of your hotel) then people will start using VR content in their travel planning, as well. And that means you’ll get more targeted traffic to your website.”
- Higher engagement rates
“At one of the hotels we’re working with, the Radisson Sas in Germany, we’ve seen viewership for this kind of content grow to over 2,500 unique visitors in the last month. This basically doubled their traffic, and the average user experience is just over 4 minutes.”
- Direct bookings
“I mentioned earlier that people enjoy looking around, exploring. This is intuitive. So, when they find something they like, the booking process needs to be intuitive, as well. That’s why we’ve made sure that they’re able to book that room, within the VR experience. In this way, we think VR will be able to replace a hotel website’s ‘Rooms’ pages, which are the most valuable pages on many websites.”
“So, when you take these 3 goals together, and you see how easy it is for marketers to KPI each one, you start getting a much better picture of how important VR is going to be as a direct booking channel, going forward.”
And that led to my next question: Why does VR technology need to be designed specifically for the hospitality industry?
“Because travel is becoming a culture,” he said.
“With low-cost fares… and because it’s so easy for people to discover hotels these days… people will start searching for hotels based on the experience they want to enjoy. Whether it be a shopping experience… or beach experience…”
“This is especially true when we think about first-time travelers from developing countries. They don’t want to leave anything up to chance, and many times they don’t speak the language… so hotels that have this kind of intuitive, experiential content will get their attention. But only if it’s easy to access. That’s why we decided to develop a browser-based platform, instead of requiring people to download an app. That’s a huge barrier.
Instead, VR needs to be built for people that are busy; for people that are in the middle of comparing one hotel against a dozen competitors. That means it needs to be so easy to use that, if someone clicks on your VR link using mobile, tablet, desktop or VR goggles, they instantly jump into the experience; there should be no barriers. That’s how you make a strong first impression.”
“Can you tell me a little more about the benefits?” I asked.
Here are a few of the points he listed:
- VR content is indexed in a wide variety of ways on Google, which drives up your search engine ranking
- You can do PPC ads tied to a single room in your tour. This makes your offers more specific
- And can also use VR to share your surrounding area. This helps sell your location, location, location!
So, if you’ve ever found yourself thinking, “if people just walked around our property, they’d know why we have higher rates – and why we’re still a much better value,” then this is a good way to give people that experience.
You could even say this is the most experiential medium we have.
And since the travel industry relies on people buying into experiences, based on first impressions, I think we’re just beginning to discover how we can use VR in our marketing to bring prospective guests in for a closer look, answer questions and build trust.
And on the internet, where reviews are not always to be believed… and blemishes can easily be photoshopped and cropped out – giving people the unvarnished truth so they can feel confident in their decisions, is, really, some of the best marketing you can do.
Which is why I think ‘VR experiences’ could easily replace ‘Rooms’ as the highest converting page on a hotel’s website in the near future.
To see what I mean, check out this VR example at the Wyndham Duisburg.