The future of tourism: Virtual reality travel on Facebook

(Facebook/Mark Zuckerberg)
(Facebook/Mark Zuckerberg)

Cape Town - Facebook seems to be at the forefront of virtual reality (VR) travel, aiming to get 1 billion people into VR in the future.

Since Facebook bought the VR-gaming console Oculus Rift for $3 billion in 2014, the social media giant has been pushing for VR development and widespread use, though the technology has been slower to roll out than other new technologies. 

WATCH: Thailand in 360° Virtual Reality style

On Monday the founder Mark Zuckerberg hosted a livestream promoting the platform's future VR function. It showed Zuckerberg and his head of social VR Rachel Franklin as floating digital avatars that transported around the world, even to the moon, all from the comforts of their own homes. 

The idea is that you can visit places without leaving your couch, and even interact with other VR-tourists through the avatars.

Backlash came however when they transported to hurricane-hit Puerto Rico and attempted at a very awkward high-five with each other's avatars, while standing in the flooded streets of the struggling island, which came off as 'tone deaf' and insensitive. He also highlighted their partnership with relief efforts in the area, though this was also met with some derision. 

SEE: Hurricane Maria aims at Puerto Rico after slamming Dominica

Zuckerberg has apologised since then before their Oculus Connect 4 event, where he announced the latest updates in the VR industry.

"We believe one day everyone will use virtual reality to improve how we work and play with one another," said Zuckerberg at the conference.

He also announced their new Oculus Go, a small on-the-go version of the Oculus Rift, which would be better suited to the travel and social aspect of VR.

"Oculus Go is a standalone headset that doesn't require you to snap in a phone or attach a cable. It's great for playing games, watching movies, or hanging out with friends. And the price is only $199. It ships early next year," Zuckerberg posted on Facebook.

According to CNET however, the buy-in to VR from consumers has been lukewarm, with Oculus having a serious sales problem.

WATCH: Climbing Mount Everest - hooks and all - in Virtual Reality

In tourism, VR is a new platform that tour companies use to market their packages to potential visitors, by giving them a taste of what they can experience.

Kelly Jackson, General Manager for Contiki South Africa, believes that these VR 'teasers' work better than brochures and an incredibly useful tool at tourism and travel expos.

Jackson explained at SA's Business of Wine and Food Tourism that Contiki started exploring VR after they announced the sale of a VR itinerary for April Fool's in 2016 and received a lot of positive feedback, and ended up creating a cliff-jumping VR video to showcase at markets and conventions.

One of the limitations for the tourism industry to embrace VR however is the costs of making such videos, according to Jackson, which in South Africa can cost upwards of R100 000 for a simple VR video. She also mentions to be careful that your VR product doesn't become too gimmicky, which can put off potential tourists.

ALSO SEE: Wine Worth Travelling For: SA's wine industry set to grow

A clever use of VR to market a country was this publicity stunt in Tbilisi, Georgia, that gave locals an interesting taste of Ireland.

What do you think? Do you think VR will change the future of travel and tourism marketing? Let us know!

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