You would never guess it, but Houston, Texas is home to one of the most diverse groups of people in the world and is the fourth largest city in the United States. Even with accolades like that, it is not a very popular vacation destination. In order to attract visitors, Visit Houston, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, decided to launch a virtual reality campaign that will allow potential tourists to submerse themselves in all that Houston has to offer.
Working with VR company YouVisit, the campaign allows possible visitors a 360-degree view of some of Houston’s popular attractions such as Minute Maid Park, the NASA Space Center, the Houston Ballet, and a variety the city’s museums and parks. During their virtual tour, visitors will be guided by a tour guide avatar that will provide descriptions of each of the attractions.
“We still have to dispel beliefs that Houston is where the tumbleweeds and cattle are,” said Waterman. “We’re trying to provide new visitors with experiences that are memorable, and therefore marketable. We sat down and thought about the 12 most interesting venues that would entice people to watch the content. The hope is that once people see the content, they’ll be so excited that they’ll book a ticket to Houston.”
On average, people spend roughly 10 minutes watching a YouVisit campaign, which Abi Mandelbaum, CEO of YouVisit, says is an eternity in the online world. “For travel destinations, when you’re able to put that prospective traveler in a VR set and give them a glimpse of what it would be like to be there, their desire to experience it in real life jumps dramatically.”
Mandelbaum believes that the visitor data that YouVisit tracks will allow Visit Houston to tailor their marketing based on the number of people watching, their location, and which attractions they’re fascinated about. “It lets the data do the talking. You look at what they’re spending time on, and then continue to enhance the experience and marketing message to hone in on things they’re interested in,” he said. “That informs the messaging that the destination can use to continue to attract more visitors and drive better results.”
Visit Houston hopes to hit its goal of 20 million visitors by 2018 with the help of the VR campaign, which will be an increase from 14.9 million in 2014 and 17.5 million in 2015. “When we go into NASA buoyancy lab and capture astronauts training, or we film the Houston Ballet during the rehearsal, or the singing of the National Anthem at Minute Maid Park during an Astros game, that’s content that people will want to watch,” said Waterman. “If we produce the right kind of content, people will want to consume it.”
Mandelbaum expects virtual reality will be embraced by more tourism organizations in the near future as a common form of marketing. “It’s an experience that you can’t get from Trip Advisor or Yelp,” he said. “When you can get a traveler to feel what it’s like to actually be there, it changes the game and moves your destination to the top of the list because you offered them something memorable.”
Take a tour of Houston here.