Hands on with the Thomas Cook Experience on the Samsung Gear VR

Samsung Gear VRIf VR is going to work for advertisers, it’s going to have to scale, and in that sense the recently launched Samsung Gear VR is one of the most promising of the VR offerings on the market. At £79.99 the price point is reasonable enough to make VR affordable (unlike Oculus, where the device alone costs £499, and that’s before you buy a high end PC to run it on), while also ensuring the kit is durable enough so that people can throw it in a bag or use it again (unlike Google Cardboard, where the flimsy design makes them feel disposable).

The technology that powers the VR experience is a reasonably recent Samsung mobile phone – has already penetrated the mass market and is in people’s pockets. The importance of the portability of the tech became clear to me earlier this week while on a flight to Hamburg, where a man who had a Samsung Gear VR strapped onto his face for the duration of a flight. Whether this will become standard behaviour on flights is another matter, as many people raised eyebrows as they passed by.

Samsung were giving the UK press a demo of their newly launched Samsung Gear VR units at Westfield Shopping Centre in London this morning. Alongside a surprisingly convincing rollercoaster experience (complete with moving and vibrating seats), one of the experiences on offer was a series of ‘Try Before You Fly’ 360 videos produced for Thomas Cook.

The videos were produced by Visualise, a production company specialising in VR. Potential holidaymakers visiting Thomas Cook stores in the UK, Germany and Belgium have been using the Samsung Gear VR to access the videos, which showcase trips to Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, New York and Singapore.

On the whole the experience is a good one: the videos were relatively straightforward and were essentially an immersive slideshow featuring some of the visual highlights from the various destinations. While even doing something as simple as navigating between the videos still felt a little clunky, it’s important to remember we’re pretty much as the stage where this type of experience is to VR, what games like Snake once were to mobile gaming. It’s very early days and it’s only fair to be a little forgiving with these first forays into VR.

As a VR marketing experience, my encounter was mixed. Looking at the positives, VR did a great job of showing me what Singapore has to offer, which took me by surprise as it’s not a place I have been particularly drawn to in the past. And if I hadn’t been to New York, I think I’d be more inclined to go after getting a sense of what it’s like to me surrounded by skyscrapers in downtown Manhattan.

However, the downsides to the experience were equally interesting. The videos of Greece and Cyprus actually put me off the idea of booking a package holiday to those destinations with Thomas Cook. To me the hotels looked a bit depressing, which funnily enough is pretty much how I envisaged a Thomas Cook holiday to either destination. Similarly, I now know I’ll never bother getting the boat out past the Statue of Liberty in New York, as the VR experience gave me a sense of how it’s actually going to look disappointingly small when you get out close to her.

Aside from the actual experience, it’s important to remember that this is more of marketing gimmick when it comes to reaching audiences with any meaningful scale, although the immersiveness, the high engagement and the novelty factor will ensure that those exposed to these experiences will remember and probably talk about them.

Visualise say that Samsung reported that in the first 3 months the experiences generated flights and hotel bookings totalling £12k in the UK and Germany and has seen a 40 percent return on investment. They also say that there was an 180 percent uplift in New York excursions revenue, which Visualise say proves what people do in the destination is just as important as going to the destination itself.

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