Can Hotels Use Augmented Reality to Engage Guests?

In the past several years, virtual reality has moved from a niche topic discussed by technology enthusiasts to one eagerly covered in the mainstream media. There is, however, another emerging technology hoteliers should also pay attention to that can provide a new way for guests to interact with their property: augmented reality.

What Hoteliers Need to Know About Augmented Reality
While virtual reality and augmented reality are similar, they have different uses. Virtual reality gives viewers the ability to experience a simulated version of a location, destination, or experience. Hotels are using virtual reality as a marketing tool to entice guests to stay at their properties.

Augmented reality can be used as a marketing tool as well, but not in the same way as virtual reality. Instead of immersing viewers into a digital world, augmented reality uses computer-generated sensory input to alter the way viewers perceive the world around them. In short, augmented reality overlays digital elements in the real world.

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When considering augmented reality, there are two technologies hoteliers need to understand: augmented reality viewers and augmented reality browsers. An augmented reality viewer is a head-mounted device, the most prominent examples being Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens. Augmented reality browsers work in conjunction with a smartphone’s camera feed. With an augmented reality browser, a user can point their camera at a point of interest and receive an image of the location with added information.

How Can Hotels Use Augmented Reality
There are few, if any, examples of hotels using augmented reality. Nonetheless, it could be a powerful tool, especially considering the adoption rate of virtual reality and augmented reality is predicted to rapidly increase in the next several years. The best example of how hotels could use the technology would be a proprietary app incorporating augmented reality functionality that would enhance a guest’s stay. Hoteliers could then provide guests with an augmented reality headset upon their arrival, similar to how they might provide iPads, or direct them to download the app.

Once hoteliers place augmented reality in their guests’ hands, the technology is only limited by their creativity. Imagine a hotel guest pointing their smartphone in any direction to access information that makes their stay both more convenient and more enjoyable. Augmented reality could be used to direct guests to the nearest exit or show them where various amenities are located. Or augmented reality could be used to create branded experiences that share stories about specific features, similar to how some hotels use QR codes to lead customers on property tours.

There are other uses as well. A hotel that prides itself on being environmentally friendly could use an augmented reality app to inform guests about different features in the property, such as solar panels or green building materials, which help contribute to this reputation. A hotel whose brand is tied to using local goods could detail its partners’ stories. If hoteliers need inspiration, there are numerous augmented reality apps on the market in a variety of industries.

In the travel industry, there are several notable apps. One of the most prominent is WikiTude. This app aggregates content from other sources such as Wikipedia to provide users with information about most anything, including local points of interest and restaurants. Other augmented reality apps in the travel industry include The Nearest Tube, which helps tourists in London locate mass transit stations, and in Paris, travelers can use an augmented reality app called Then and Now, which shows users what different sites throughout Paris looked like in the past.

Other industries are already incorporating augmented reality in ways that could be replicable to hotels. For example, the Japanese publishing company Tokyo Shoseki creates books to help Japanese adults learn to speak English. By holding a smartphone over specific images in the books, readers can view digital content explaining the words they are using.

The above example is exciting for hoteliers because it offers a glimpse of how they might go about embedding augmented reality content into printed materials. A hotel with a restaurant could embed content on its menu that would provide guests with recommendations (such as drink pairings), reviews, and even videos showing a chef preparing the dish.

The education sector is also using augmented reality. Simpson College, a school in Iowa, used a banner that incorporated virtual reality to engage and recruit prospective students. The school placed the banner in a busy nearby mall and prompted people to view the banner using a special app. When people pointed their smartphone camera at the banner, a video would play on their screen. Hoteliers can adapt this concept with picture banners at airports or other highly trafficked areas that would entice guests to learn about the hotel.

Today’s guests crave increased convenience and increased innovation. Hotels that do not move forward in these two areas risk being left behind. Augmented reality has the ability to transform how guests interact with a hotel’s property. The question is, which hotels will make these experiences a reality first?

About the Author
Abi Mandelbaum is co-founder and CEO of YouVisit, which creates virtual tours and virtual reality experiences for a variety of industries, including hospitality, real estate, travel, events, education, and factories.

Photo credit: Augmented Reality via Bigstock.