Why Travel Agents Need to Keep an Eye on Virtual Reality

As virtual reality becomes mainstream, travel agents need to watch for how the technology might affect their business By: Kenneth Shapiro
Shapiro // © 2016 TravelAge West
Shapiro // © 2016 TravelAge West

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Here’s a tip you probably won’t find in many guidebooks: If you want to park your zeppelin while visiting New York City, there’s airship-docking equipment at the top of several of the city’s skyscrapers, including the Empire State Building. Why? The possibility that we would all be using zeppelins as personal transportation made a lot of sense at the time those buildings were constructed.

Fast-forward to today, and we see other experiments that have the potential to change transportation in the future, including cruise ships with electric-powered engines, airplanes that run on biofuel, self-driving rental cars and much more.

While one can never be entirely sure whether a technology is going to catch on or go the way of the personal airship, certainly many advancements at least bear watching. Although virtual reality (VR) is still in an early stage, there is little doubt that it’s going to have a major impact on technology in general — and travel in particular. As you can read in this issue’s cover story, “Virtually Yours,” VR and travel are a natural fit.

I’ve had the opportunity to try out some elaborate VR systems, and the experience is truly amazing — it’s possible to imagine many applications for the technology. While it’s not clear how VR will affect travel agents specifically, it’s not too soon to start thinking about how it could fit into your own business model.

“This is the beginning of VR becoming mainstream, and we want to be on the forefront of it,” says Brian Windle, vice president of sales and marketing for the Americas for Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, in the cover story.

While he is talking about a hospitality company, the same could be said for a travel agency. Many travel agents have been caught standing on the sidelines as major technological changes have reshaped the industry. The agents who saw these changes coming were better able to adapt and thrive in the new marketplace. You might not know for sure what aspect of this technology is going to have the most impact on your business, but the first step is learning as much as possible about the basics, instead of playing catch-up later.