Virtual reality: A 3-D, computer-simulated space, viewed through a headset, that users can interact with as though they’re actually there. It might sound too futuristic for the industry, but some hotel companies are already harnessing the power of this up-and-coming technology to wow investors and train employees. It is still a niche product, but experts in the field like Will Smith, CEO of FOO VR, suspect that in the next two to three years, virtual reality will skyrocket.
There are tens of thousands of headsets on the market, but that will change as virtual reality becomes more mainstream. Carlson Rezidor is one hotel company leading the charge, showcasing Radisson Blu’s designs via virtual reality. In demonstrating the DNA of its BluPrint design program to owners, developers, and investors, the hotel company uses the technology to mock-up property designs. Computer graphic imagery allows the team to view different properties and rooms without ever stepping outside the office.
“The mock-up room phase can be a fairly expensive process,” says Rose Anderson, vice president of branding for Radisson Blu. “For example, if you put a wallcovering on one of the walls and then you see it in context with the room and you realize that it doesn’t work, you just lost time and money. If you can do those steps in a virtual world, which is what we’ve been doing for BluPrint, you can cut out a lot of that phasing. That way, when you actually build your mock-up room, from a design standpoint you are 99.9 percent there.”
Best Western also offers a virtual reality experience, through which travelers can take 360-degree virtual tours of its properties. In addition, the company is using the technology to train frontline associates, by simulating a full day of customer interaction. “We partnered with a company that created an avatar so we can practice customer service in a real-world environment,” explains Ron Pohl, senior vice president of brand management for Best Western. The virtual character reacts not only to typed words, but also uses facial recognition to monitor appropriate responses to different scenarios. “If the customer in a role-play situation is complaining and you smile, it responds with, ‘I’m glad you think this is funny.’”