What one destination discovered about using virtual reality for travel marketing


Virtual reality continues its march into the mainstream. While most consumers do not have access to the headsets required to properly experience the medium, there are enough out there that do. One of the things to remember about virtual reality is that it can also be experienced in 360°. So even if travelers don’t have a headset, they can still very much experience the destination.

One recent application of VR was with Visit Mammoth in California. The team created a behind-the-scenes video piece on the making of the VR video, which shows just how much work goes into creating compelling content for this new medium. In this particular video, a 360° camera set-up was flown via drone — the highest level elevation ever flown for a 360° camera.

Visit Mammoth’s Director of Marketing Whitney Lennon provided some insights into how the destination decided to experiment with this technology — and of course what others can learn from their experience.

The actual VR video itself is here (best viewed with a VR headset).

When planning to use VR, did you include an ROI calculation? Or was it more about experimentation and learning? Walk us through the thought process there, and how others considering using the technology should approach it.

There’s certainly an element of experimentation in our use of VR, but it’s done with purpose and with an eye on measurable impact. The technology solves a unique problem for us: showing off the sheer grandeur of our destination in a way that just doesn’t translate fully on traditional video or in still shots.

Our hypothesis was that VR is much better at creating a sense of place for potential visitors in a way that will translate to visitation.

We’ll measure that, as we do with all of our campaigns, as part of our larger campaign awareness survey efforts. Industry standards for KPIs and measuring impact don’t actually exist for this medium, so we’ve had to create those internally, but the early returns have been very positive.

Why VR, is it really all about the sense of immersion?

I alluded to it, but we have a unique problem in Mammoth Lakes in that our destination is almost too good looking. Static images and video just don’t do it justice. There really is no substitute for the real thing, but filming in 360/VR takes video certainly takes us one step closer.

The technology has the capacity to create that sense of immersion but successfully tapping into it really does require some storytelling. More than just showing pretty landscapes it was also important for us to provide some context, the piece had to allow the viewer to experience what a day in Mammoth Lakes can be like.

We did that by following along a few adventurers as they experience Mammoth Lakes. That was an important decision and allowed for a more visceral and emotional experience with the viewer pushing off the top of the ski run or paragliding across the rocky skyline.

Any unforeseen challenges in using the technology?

Anything new comes with challenges. Our environment, at an altitude of over 11,000 feet at the summit of Mammoth Mountain provided some unique challenges for the drone pilots. It required basically inventing of some new technology in order to get the shots we needed.

We also worked with an experienced team, and that’s something I can’t recommend highly enough to others looking at producing VR content. The technology is so new and every shoot is unique, working with a team that has experience in overcoming some of those unique issues is invaluable and will likely save money and time in the long run.

Do you have any regrets? Is there anything you’d have done differently?

Regret probably isn’t the right word but of course, there are things we’d have done differently. Like any camp,aign we’ve optimized based on performance and response. For example, we had our hearts set on showing a cloud-level viewpoint to open up the video.

Once we executed we discovered it wasn’t engaging the viewer as we’d planned. An edited version omitting that initial intro and immediately jumping the viewer right into the action is performing much better

Have the VR pieces worked as you intended? Any surprises?

The VR Pieces are performing above our expectations. When planning and producing these pieces, the possibility to create emotional connections was a major draw, the but emotional response by nature is unpredictable and we’ve definitely been surprised by how it affected some viewers.

For example, those with mobility issues can have this visceral experience of skiing and paragliding for the first time, it’s powerful stuff.

The piece was also recently nominated in the VR category at the Brand Film Festival in NYC, which in our world is nice validation as well.

What are your plans for the technology moving forward?

We initially viewed VR as a long shelf-life hero content and campaign piece. We’d produce multiple pieces and use them in a variety of different campaigns and for multiple years. That’s still true, but as consumer adoption of the technology increases and VR headsets make their way into more homes, the potential applications for VR content will grow exponentially.

Given how well the technology shows off our destination, we’ll absolutely look for new ways to use it and additional opportunities to expand our library.



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