Why Tourism Is the Future for Augmented Reality
Virtual reality (VR) marketers and technologists have been on the front line of new use cases and business models built up VR for decades. For most consumers VR, and more commonly, augmented reality (AR) bring to mind certain functionalities in the gaming industry. Whereas VR is generally delivered as an immersive experience through specialty eyewear, AR can be broadly defined as any video or 3D augmentation overlaid on a screen that’s used to view the real world. It is generally experienced via smartphone camera.
Easily the most well-known example of AR technology is Pokemon Go, the location-based game featuring cartoon “pocket monsters” overlaid in the real world and discoverable on one’s smartphone. But despite Pokeman Go’s virality a year and half ago, it has not proven to be a long-term, successful AR business model for the gaming industry.
I believe that storytelling in the tourism industry, not gaming, will be one of the first to demonstrate sustained, successful business models that leverage AR’s capabilities.
Take the concept of “theatrical-touring”: Tourists take part in a location-based, audio drama with complementary AR scenes offering a compelling and unique experience. This goes well beyond the old audio tour guides used in museums and national parks. Storytelling using AR allows one to be transported into a narrated, multi-sensory experience through time-portals past, present, and future.
Imagine touring Alcatraz accompanied by an AR-enhanced, audio drama. You could watch cocky, upbeat Al Capone argue with guards as you step through time to relive the sad story of his fall from the top of the crime world. Or envision yourself walking along the Great Wall of China transposed by the commotion of war. Commanders and soldiers in your midst heave open cauldrons of boiling tar over the edge to meet the approaching enemies below.
While still emerging, AR technology is already in use in the tourism industry today. Asiatravel.com and its B2B arm TAcentre.com markets and sells digital theatrical tours through operators and their Asian outlets. Yaturu (of which I am an investor) has created a five-day augmented reality historical tour of Israel that is used by tour guides and individuals to provide a unique and entertaining tour experience.
But why haven’t sustainable AR business models been widely successful? In simple terms, it is challenging to suspend disbelief using available AR production technologies because the user of a smartphone or AR eyewear is not fixed in position, as is the case in a movie theater. In-scene AR overlays must be anchored in such a way that they can be convincingly viewed by users who themselves are not stationary.
Pokemon Go is an example of cartoon characters whose design obscures the technical flaws that may otherwise disrupt viewers suspension of disbelief. Despite their significant, albert brief successes, I believe these complexities have hindered mass AR consumer adoption.
While continued innovation will certainly play a role in increasing AR adoption, that alone will not be the reason it will succeed. The key to successful adoption — which I think is especially applicable in the tourism industry — is the approach. Only by the creation of a comprehensive theatrical experience will consumer adoption of AR take off.
Audio, visual, and creative elements — when coupled with dramatic storytelling and a thoughtful narrative — combine for a successful outcome. Why? Tourists are primed for entertainment and looking to experience something new. When delivered with a narrative in the form of a story (and where suspension of disbelief is a directorial goal), AR is persuasive and highly entertaining.
AR will begin to disrupt the tourism industry and, perhaps, the tourism industry will disrupt AR business models. With the creation of uniquely AR content that provides a memorable experience with believable augmented reality overlays, consumer demand will reach new heights. With the additional support of touring agencies and operators who are looking to enhance margins by selling premium tours, I believe tourism will become the first industry to create successful, long-term AR business models.
Kevin Bermeister has developed several businesses in the computer, multimedia and Internet industries. He is the founder, chairman and CEO of Brilliant Digital Entertainment Inc. and founding investor in a number of successful technology ventures including Skype. Bermeister is currently Chairman or investor in several technology startups including augmented reality startup Yaturu, big data analytics company Codondex, and advertising network startup Adfreeway.