In April Sir David Attenborough visited my home city of York. The legendary naturalist and broadcaster was here to open the new exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum, Yorkshire’s Jurassic World.
Unsurprisingly his appearance garnered a lot of media attention. And photographs of Sir David wearing virtual reality goggles in order to feed an imaginary dinosaur went around the world.
Like many similar organisations, the York Museums Trust has decided to embrace this newest of technologies. But is this always the right thing to do?
What we did
Little research had been done to uncover the advantages – and pitfalls – of visitor attractions using VR and augmented reality (AR). So Landor Travel Publications, publisher of Group Travel Organiser Magazine Magazine and organiser of the Future Tourism conference, commissioned Qa Research to find out the sector’s experience of, and approach to, this brave new high-tech world.
We interviewed in depth many different kinds of attraction up and down the UK. Some had used this technology, and some hadn’t. We presented our findings first at Landor’s Future Tourism conference. And I would like to summarise them for you here.
Before going any further, this is how the attractions define each term:
- virtual reality: experiencing a real situation using virtual means, typically accessed via a headset
- augmented reality: blends reality and virtually created enhancements – accessed via a device, typically a smartphone.
Why offer VR and AR (and why not)?
There were a number of key reasons why attractions might want to use VR and AR.
First, they offer a wow factor. And the technology allows you to tell a story in a uniquely immersive way. It is recognised as being at the cutting edge of visitor experience provision, and so adds value to customers. And it can provide an additional revenue stream.
With so many positive boxes ticked, why wouldn’t you add VR and AR to the mix? Well it turns out there are several very valid reasons for thinking twice.
The tech can be the ‘wrong fit’ for somewhere aiming to offer a more ‘real’ experience.
As one of our interviewees told us:
“We offer an escape from digital & digital addictions… particularly for our family audiences.”
There’s no doubt VR can be disruptive, splitting up family groups and taking them of into their own worlds. Similarly it can create visitor conflict, as it may not appeal to all of the attraction’s segments.
Then there are the potential practical drawbacks. Investment in this area is expensive against unknown returns. You can suffer from technical problems – limited digital connectivity can cause major headaches – while the low take-up of some AR apps is another reason to question if the investment is worth it.
The positives – and the challenges
Those attractions that have used VR found that it made a trip more memorable, and so boosted visitor satisfaction rates. Another positive: the headsets can be used anywhere – they are not tethered to one site. That makes them more flexible than group simulators.
Some of the more practical considerations included the difficulty in knowing how many headsets are enough, the need for technical support to fix breakdowns – and the fact that some visitors can’t use them due to motion sickness.
“It enables you to offer something way beyond the ordinary”
Augmented reality, meanwhile, was thought to create a sense of fun and wonder by augmenting a visitor’s imagination. It can bring static exhibits to life before your eyes and enables the creation of new exhibit sets without major infrastructure changes.
Drawbacks of this technology included detracting from the authenticity of an attraction’s proposition, the limited connectivity in some areas, and the fact that some visitors’ phones may not have the available storage space availability to cope with another app.
Six things to consider
So if you are curious about using VR and AR, I’ll leave you with these thoughts to ponder…
- Think hard about the fit – is it really right for your attraction?
- Will it suit all your visitors, or do you need an alternative for the non-adopters?
- Have you the digital connectivity strength and speed to make it work?
- How many VR headsets will you need? Too few and there will be queues and frustration
- Don’t skimp on the investment – it will be obvious to visitors
- And if you are charging, make sure it delivers the wow factor!