Picture yourself in the comfort of your own living room, researching a vacation worth blowing your savings on. But you’re not squinting at a screen on your phone or tablet: Instead, garbed in a headset and gear out of a Tron flick, you are virtually walking onto a plane and selecting a seat that isn’t in airline Siberia, taking a test drive in a Tesla rental car and making sure that hip hotel isn’t a youth hostel in disguise.
All of that is currently possible as more and more travel vendors use virtual reality (VR) content as the ultimate travel brochure. Now leap ahead five or 10 years. Imagine doing all of the above, and then add this new twist: putting the travel goodies you select in your cart, and then buying them without leaving your immersive VR universe. Sounds like sci-fi, but many experts believe it’s coming sooner than we think. “The big leap will be moving [VR] from a marketing gimmick to something that could bring in booking revenue,” says Sean O’Neill, a travel technology expert for Skift, a New York–based research and media company.
Navitaire is developing proof-of-concept hardware and software that will turn VR headsets into transactional tools for travel.
For most travel consumers, a disruption can’t come soon enough. Online systems were supposed to make buying travel products — airline and rail tickets, car rentals, hotel rooms — as simple as a few keystrokes. But the drill is increasingly complicated as we surf seemingly endless pages and options on the reservation booking sites run by online travel agencies (OTAs). Lowest price, best departure time, nonstop, one-stop, budget room, suite with a view … the list goes on and on. When it comes to exchanging money for goods and services, this $7.2 trillion global industry seems to be slowing down, not speeding up. According to Expedia, the average traveler makes at least 30 visits to websites to book a single trip.
Innovations like voice-driven searches already…