Will virtual reality make waves in corporate travel? The jury is out
Not so long ago, virtual reality (VR) headsets made waves, especially in the video game industry. For die-hard gamers, this took their passion to another immersive level – feeling like they were actually inside the games they loved so much. For some, they’d never play games another way. For others, it just made them a bit motion sick.
But maybe virtual reality has another purpose. In the wake of the prior years’ lockdowns and quarantines, business professionals who were accustomed to taking to the skies on the regular were desperate for ways to feel connected again to their customers and colleagues. Zoom, Teams, Slack, and Google Meet were passable substitutes, but everyone missed the camaraderie of face-to-face, and the creative surge due to activities like whiteboarding and sticky-note charts.
Tech giants around the world – Meta (Facebook), Google, and Apple, just to name a few – have thrown billions of dollars into researching how we can be together without actually being together, including for work events. Are they on to something?
Virtual reality vs. augmented reality
You may hear the terms virtual reality and augmented reality thrown around interchangeably, but they in fact accomplish two very different things.
- Virtual reality makes you feel like you are somewhere else. Immersive video game headsets accomplish this by blocking out your vision of the real world and replacing it with 360-degree views of a virtual world.
- Augmented reality simply enhances your actual reality. Think of smart glasses that can identify different items just by looking in their direction, or even the fan favourite PokemonGO app that places Pokemon sprites on the landscape in front of you.
Both virtual reality and augmented reality fall under the umbrella of extended reality.
Where it may fit into business travel
The main benefit of VR/AR experiences is that it adds another interactive, dynamic layer over the typical virtual meeting. Think about it – instead of someone’s 2D image on a Zoom panel, you could walk up to them, sit next to them, look them in the (avatar) eye. Platforms like the Metaverse boast the ability to whiteboard, diagram, and chart in real time on virtual boards. There are even opportunities for team-building games.
There’s also the sustainability conversation. Asking frequent flyers to opt for a Zoom meeting has been a bit of a hard sell. But we all can’t deny the current state of our climate, and aviation’s effect on it. AR/VR travel may be able to motivate travellers to make more sustainable decisions, since the experience is more immersive and personable.
The one downside is cost – to truly invest in VR/AR technology, travellers will need individual access to headsets, which on average cost around USD$400, not to mention any software subscription services that may be required. Also, the first launch of the Metaverse was less than positive which means we may need to take a step back for a while.
If you’re serious about integrating VR/AR into your business travel tech stack, then it’ll be important to factor in upfront costs vs. historical costs of regular business travel. You’ll also need to set clear parameters for travellers on what meetings are VR/AR-friendly, when to choose VR/AR over standard meetings, and any other requirements and policies.
It may also be best to take a pulse on your travellers’ interest. To paraphrase a recent YouTube comment we saw, “Meta really thought we’d want to sit in our house with a headset on to then sit around a virtual conference table.”
So, there’s still a lot to learn, and probably a lot more to discover. John Morhous, Chief Experience Officer at Flight Centre Travel Group, put it best:
“Everyone who is back on the road travelling is evaluating whether they need to take the trip, what the purpose is of the meeting, how it impacts on their life, the risk, sustainability. There is no black-and-white answer, it is a spectrum. The metaverse fills a void. It’s a great way to connect for short periods of time, because after wearing a headset for prolonged periods of time, you can start feeling fatigued.”
Let’s see what happens. Who knows, your next meeting may be in the metaverse.