Insights EDU

VR and the Future of Travelling – The Case of the Virtual Travel Lounge

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Aleko Lilly | Head of Business Development | Somniacs

11 Jun 2021 | 4 min read

Travel is one of the most foundational ways in which people experience and understand the world.

By exploring new lands and cultures, people connect to new ideas, creating unparalleled emotional and educational experiences. However, most of us have been stuck in one place – inside, in our own cities, within the borders of our countries – for more than a year. And so, these opportunities to experience the world have in many cases, ceased to exist. Where possible, the chance to explore and interact has been fraught with anxiety.

Virtual Reality and Travelling

This stuck-ness has sparked a revolution for virtual reality with people more and more willing to embrace how technology can help them interact. From virtual conferences to interactive VR meeting spaces to a general acceptance that much of our world can be accessed from home. People are now more willing to embrace new tech and VR/XR solutions. However, the revolution hasn’t yet hit the travel and tourism industry in a similar way. While stakeholders are willing to embrace the idea of VR, they haven’t changed their thinking beyond how it can impact a purchase decision for physical travel or how it might marginally enhance an existing site or experience.

With Birdly, SOMNIACS and the World XR Forum have taken the first steps to change that. SOMNIACS has always been a company focused on changing the way people explore and interact with the world. Through our fully immersive simulator, Birdly, we’ve focused on allowing users to travel with their mind, to new lands, ancient worlds and more. We bridge the gap between unreachable places and people that hope to experience them. It was this idea that led to our recent partnership with the World XR Forum to launch a virtual travel lounge in the Swiss alpine town of Crans-Montana.

Virtual Travel Lounge

This virtual travel lounge was born to combat the malaise and disappointment of a year without travel. The goal was to give people a glimpse of the experiences they’d missed and a window into a future where they could travel around the world, through time, and beyond.

The idea for the virtual travel lounge began as the World XR Forum was looking for a way to increase its visibility. Both as a pioneering leader in the virtual reality world and to show off its hometown, Crans-Montana, a hub for cutting edge technologies and innovative ideas. Crans-Montana is a lively resort and tourist destination that offers world-class outdoors experiences during both summer and winter. The travel lounge would offer something entirely different. There was an escape within an escape and a chance to travel beyond borders without ever leaving town.

Using a unique format, the World XR team launched Birdly as the centrepiece of a sleek, modern gallery at the heart of the Crans-Montana business district. Guests were invited to experience fifteen minutes of virtual travel, booked in advance, online due to the pandemic. It included three Birdly flights of their choice and a soundtrack they selected at the start. The experience was more than just a few flights on Birdly, as World XR Forum staff members treated the guests to a first-class journey the minute they walked through the door.

Friends and family members of the guests were treated to the same exquisite travel experience. Including beverage service, snacks and additional VR and XR experiences to experiment with. All while waiting for their turn. Promotional items were given to take with them as souvenirs.

Capitalizing on the entertainment value, the World XR Forum promoted the virtual travel lounge experience as a wellness destination. Understanding that there was a wealth of pent-up demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they afforded visitors a few minutes of complete freedom and immersion. In a year without travel, visitors were able to take a few precious moments and travel without limitations through the power of Birdly and VR.

The Future of Virtual Travel Lounge

The virtual travel lounge was a resounding success and the World XR Forum will continue to operate it into the future. From survey results, customer feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Visitors found the pricing fair, the staff welcoming and the experience highly immersive and emotional. A truly pleasurable interlude to their time in Crans-Montana. In addition, the team from the World XR Forum found that the offering of the virtual travel lounge drew many new visitors to the town. Often coming for the Birdly experience alone.

The successful virtual travel lounge has shown that there is a need for new thinking in the field of VR and tourism. With people so willing and excited to experience travel through virtual reality, to expand their world by travelling with their minds, there is a need to expand travel experiences this way.

VR shouldn’t be relegated to promotional videos but should be expanded to democratize tourism for everyone. With devices like Birdly and forward-thinking uses like the virtual travel lounge, for a low cost, with minimal environmental impact, anyone can have a tourist experience from anywhere in the world. Imagine the possibilities of opening the doors of tourism to all seven billion people on Earth!

Feature photo by Thierry Sermier and World XR Forum.


Want to find out how Birdly was created? Click here to read about the birth of Birdly!

About the author:

Aleko Lilly is the company’s Head of Business Development responsible for all Sales and Marketing activities. Prior to joining SOMNIACS in early 2020, he worked in business development and sales leadership in Seattle, USA, most recently with Zillow Group. Aleko has twelve years of experience as a sales and team leader in both small and large businesses. He holds a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Linfield College in Oregon, USA and an MBA in entrepreneurship from Seattle University Albers School of Business and Economics in Seattle, USA.