Are VR and AR technology about to hit the mainstream for travel brands?

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In the last couple of years, there has been a significant buzz surrounding virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology and their potential applications in the travel sector, though it has remained hard to predict exactly when these tools will truly go mainstream.

A new report from EyeforTravel has indicated that this paradigm shift has still not happened yet - but also that Travel Management Companies (TMCs) should expect this will happen soon, as new offerings continue to broaden the market and bring prices down.

The business intelligence provider acknowledged that 2016 - which had previously been identified as a potential breakout year for VR - ended up falling short, with shipment numbers failing to match up to initial forecasts. Lower-cost smartphone-compatible headsets such as Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear remain the market leaders, ahead of more complex, dedicated tools such as PlayStation VR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.

However, the report also revealed that consumers remain open to the possibilities of using VR for travel content, with just over one-third of UK consumers feeling that VR could be useful for travel planning. Even more encouraging, nearly three-quarters of US consumers say they are interested in the applications of VR for travel and tourism.

As such, strong growth in the market is set to be seen this year, continuing up to 2021, meaning TMCs should be looking to capitalise on this opportunity sooner rather than later.

Alex Hadwick, head of research at EyeforTravel, also noted that the popularity of smartphone-based VR is expanding the potential of the AR market, as the vast majority of AR applications are hosted on smartphones. This makes it advisable to develop a strategy that addresses both of these technologies side-by-side.

He said: "Given that everyone already owns an AR device, albeit one with a few limits, the possibilities are enormous and there is room for conflict with VR in getting the consumer's attention as well as co-existence.

"Perhaps we can expect VR to take a major role in the inspiration phase, and AR to be a major aid to the traveler once they begin their physical journey in the future."

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