Augmented and Virtual Reality in Hotels Could Make Travelers Pokémon Go Wild

Why Pokémon Go could mean the future of augmented and virtual reality in hotels is a promising one.

You’re a rarity if you haven’t yet fallen prey to the addictiveness of the new Pokémon Go app or heard about its effects on the world around you.

The concept behind Pokémon, a media franchise that was created in 1995, is fairly simple. There are creatures in the world called Pokémon that people, called “Trainers,” try to catch. The Pokémon Go app is a game that allows app users to become Trainers and find Pokémon in locations all around them using augmented reality (AR). Their smartphones provide information to the app about the user’s geography, including location and time, which impacts gameplay.

The augmented reality app was released on Android and iPhone in limited countries by The Pokémon Company, (partially owned by Nintendo) and developer Niantic on July 6, and within 5 days it had been downloaded more than 7.5 million times. That’s more than popular dating app Tinder and nearly more than social media platform Twitter. More average time is spent on Pokémon Go than is spent on several other leading mobile apps, including WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook.

Not only did people download it, but early figures are also showing the app has strong user retention (a modern marvel when one in four users abandon an app after only one use). More than 60 percent of people who have downloaded the app in the U.S. use it on a daily basis.

It’s become more than a game for many people. It’s an obsession.

And more than that, it shows just how popular the new technology trend of augmented reality, or if you take it a step further, virtual reality, could become in the near future.

Augmented reality is the mixing of a fabricated, digital world and reality. Unlike virtual reality, which immerses the user completely in a 3-D digital world through the use of hardware such as a headset, augmented reality adds such elements into the real world. For example, with Pokémon Go, users “see” Pokémon around them through their smartphone screen.

Both augmented and virtual reality technology are seen as up-and-coming game changers, and leading technology companies are investing in both, including Facebook, Google, Apple, and Samsung.

Virtual reality in hotels is not a completely new concept either. So far, the application of virtual reality in hospitality has primarily been for the purpose of showcasing guest rooms and other areas of properties to travelers before they arrive.

For instance, the Best Western Virtual Reality Experience provides 360-degree VR views through hardware such as Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear VR. The hotel brand virtual reality feature was created by utilizing 1.7 million property photos and Google Street View.

In an article, Best Western CMO Dorothy Dowling said, “To go that next step before they go, and actually map out a lot of those things in their mind before they arrive, I think is going to be transformative for the business.”

Other hospitality brands with virtual reality projects available include Starwood, Marriott, Shangri-La Hotels, Carlson Rezidor and Holiday Inn Express.

“Virtual reality is on the cusp of becoming more mainstream,” said Steven Taylor, chief marketing officer of Shangri-La International Hotel Management Ltd.

“Shangri-La is investing significantly in technology and the future of travel content, which is why we are embracing virtual reality on this scale…VR is a revolutionary new sales tool. The technology has evolved so that it is now affordable, light and portable.”

As part of its Travel Brilliantly campaign, Marriott went a step further than virtual reality hotel tours to offer travelers the opportunity to view VR postcards of stories and experiences around the world on Samsung virtual reality hardware.

But the uses of augmented and virtual reality in hotels has great potential for expansion.

Imagine having relaxation sessions added to the list of services available at the spa, where guests could choose to be virtually immersed in a new environment, such as a beach or a hot spring, during a treatment. Or virtual reality fitness classes that guests could watch and participate in from the comfort of their hotel room.

Virtual reality in hotel rooms could mean expanded hotel in-room entertainment options, with guests able to actually feel like they’re part of movies, shows or games rather than just watching on a 2-D hotel TV.

Hotels could also allow guests to use augmented or virtual reality in guest rooms to browse items they’d like to purchase, whether in-room dining items or gift shop souvenirs, before placing orders. The items could appear virtually to the guests using various hardware or even smartphones (similar to how Pokémon “appear” on smartphones using augmented reality) to give them a 3-D, realistic shopping experience in their hotel room without having to go to a different location.

The rise of Pokémon Go could just be the fad of the moment, but it could also foreshadow a future of augmented or virtual reality as mainstream technologies. If AR and VR technology continue to rise in popularity, especially as developers find other creative applications beyond games, they could become commonplace elements within society, in the same way, that smartphones and mobile technology have.

And once that happens, hotels will have to embrace this innovation, as with any other technology that travelers come to expect as part of their daily lives. Augmented and virtual reality technology in hotel rooms as a standard could be just around the corner.

Image courtesy of Twitter account @HyattRegencySA.

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