Marriott Hotels is betting the future of travel will be, at least in part, virtual.
The hotel brand is rolling out Oculus Rift technology at select hotel locations to enable guests to virtually explore the black sand beaches of Hawaii or the city of London.
But to make the experience more immersive, Marriott is taking things one step further by adding in sensory elements such as heat, wind and mist.
The program works like this: A person stands in a phone-booth like structure dubbed the Teleporter, puts on the Oculus Rift virtual headset and wireless headphones, and is then “teleported” to the destination.
The Teleporter has built in 4-D technology that makes it so the user physically feels different parts of the environment, such as temperature and moisture.
While Marriott claims this is the first time these technologies are being applied for a travel experience, the idea of using virtual reality for travel is nothing new.
In June, Second Life CEO Philip Rosedale said at the Singularity Finance Conference that it won’t be too long before people actually purchase virtual reality (VR) property so that they can visit it anytime they want.
Given how much momentum there’s been in the VR space this year, Rosedale’s prediction may not be too far fetched.
In March Facebook shelled out $2 billion to purchase Oculus Rift’s technology. And in June Google revealed Carboard, its own open-source mobile-powered virtual reality headset. Samsung recently rolled out its Gear VR headset, which is also powered by a smartphone (specifically the Galaxy Note 4), but it has tapped Oculus Rift to handle the software.
While it’s become the norm for tech giants to jump into the VR space to grow their gaming and entertainment ambitions, a traditional hospitality company like Marriott Hotels may seem like an odd fit to be using the technology.
But the company sees the virtual world as a big opportunity to breathe new life into its brand and possibly even spur new business.
“It’s part of our transformation message,” said Michael Dail, the vice president of brand marketing for Marriott Hotels. “This isn’t the Marriott you once thought of.”
Dail said that while a long-term VR strategy hasn’t been determined for the company, the possibilities are endless.
For example, if someone is planning a vacation, they could use VR technology to check out different destinations before booking a trip, Dail said. It could also be used in hotels to transport guests to new locations, he added.
“It can inspire their decision of where they want to go and it could also be used to enhance their stay,” Dail said.
Marriott is kicking off its virtual travel experience Thursday at the Marriott Marquis in New York City, but the Teleporters will be traveling through November at select locations around the country.
“We can be disrupters to ourselves,” Dail said. “We want to take things to the next level and we are thinking ahead about the future of travel.”