ONLINE HOTEL BOOKING TREND 5 – 2017: Travel has always been about the experience – and explains the huge amount of time spent on research prior to travel. Until recently, there were limited options to experience tantalising destinations and hotels in great detail. But now, that is all changing!

The consumer need

Try before you buy is the theme that is driving customers.

While travel and hotels (until you get there) has been relatively intangible to try out before purchase, the connected generation increasingly demands it.

Driven by the changing technology landscape (which makes it possible) and the theme of experiential travel (seeking inspiration), customers require more than a static brochure or a basic website to move through the purchase path.

What is driving change?

Travellers use YouTube as a travel hack hub.

Travel hack videos offer tips and advice for every stage of planning—from booking to packing. And the overall statistics on video continue to impress and scale new heights.

With a product called AutoDirector, Google can automatically pull images, descriptions and ratings from the App Store or Google Play store and add music to create a promotional video for an app that can be distributed across Google video inventory.

According to Cisco, video traffic will be 82 percent of all consumer Internet traffic by 2020 and  video traffic will grow fourfold from 2015 to 2020. Globally, virtual reality traffic will increase 61-fold between 2015 and 2020.

Emerging customer expectations

In travel, customers increasingly expect to indulge in a virtual experience prior to travel. What started off with photos and video is now moving into the realm of inter-active video, virtual reality and augmented reality.

While these are not mainstream yet, companies are innovating to cater to this demand.

Are they delivering on expectations?

There was hype and there have been disappointments.

But the march towards inspiring customers prior to travel and encouraging them along the booking path is only getting better!

Businesses applying this trend

Marriott’s experiment with “teleporters” seemed to have caught the imagination of travellers.

With Best Western Virtual Reality Experience (BWVRE), travellers will be able to view guest rooms, hotel lobbies and amenities prior to arriving at a property.

VIP Worldwide produce Virtual Reality experiences for Marriott (Autograph collection)  Four Seasons and Rosewood.

Hilton launched a mobile campaign featuring an interactive 360° video that takes the viewer on a virtual vacation, using Opera Media mobile video ad unit designed to create a fully immersive and engaging experience. User moves the device to get a 360 degree experience.

Thomas Cook has opened concept stores with Samsung Gear VR headsets  o help their customers experience their destination. They also experimented with virtual reality in its marketing mix, rolling out a “try before you fly” online campaign.

Ted Baker created a “shoppable film” directed by Guy Ritchie as well as the first-ever fashion retail application of the Google App’s voice search.

TimeLooper is a location-based virtual reality platform that delivers virtual reality content to consumers when they are at the most incredible sites in the world. The stories are intended to transform the onsite experience and therefore can only be ‘unlocked’ once onsite at the historic location.

Trend potential and takeaway

While the current emphasis with Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) is to enhance the travel experience and inspire, it shouldn’t be long before we see an intersection with the “online booking process”.

Why not have travellers engage and book during the VR experience? If you are inspired by what you see, why not be able to say, show me the best prices (meta search) and best periods to travel? And from there proceed to book – a completely immersive and natural simulation of an laptop/mobile booking!

Seems farfetched? Well, I’d say prepare to be surprised!

The only difference being that you are “at the hotel” while making the booking and “speaking normally” to complete the process!

Add to this Marriott’s in-room offering of virtual travel. Expect this to expand to up-selling and cross-selling products and experiences while at the hotel.