The death of the high street travel agent is a forecast that has been made numerous times, but a saviour may be at hand in the form of virtual reality technology. Holidaymakers struggling to make a final decision on where to book a trip are able to ‘visit’ some destinations in high street travel agents, via virtual reality headsets. And it appears VR has been helping boost sales.
Sales of helicopter tours in New York leapt by 28 per cent after holidaymakers were able to take a virtual reality tour, while sales of Royal Caribbean cruises rose by 45 per cent, Thomas Cook revealed in its latest annual holiday report. Wish you were here? Thomas Cook has VR technology in eight branches – and it will soon be in 25 of them nationwide
The high street travel agent says VR headsets at eight of its branches have proven so popular with customers they are planning to roll them out in even more.
In the report, the travel agent said: ‘Technology may have shifted consumers to other channels but, ironically, it may now be pulling them back to stores. ‘VR allows holidaymakers to experience the holiday without needing to set foot on a plane. Some say it’s a gimmick but it’s one that customers like.’
It could mean that in the future, you will be able to take a virtual tour of hundreds of destinations while standing in a travel agent – and the experience could help push you into booking the trip.
To access VR videos, users need to place a pair of goggles over their eyes. This then transports them to a virtual space as if they are actually there – when you move your head, the virtual world moves with you.
Chris Mottershead, managing director of Thomas Cook UK, said: ‘Buying a holiday is very different to buying a new pair of trousers or your weekly shop – it’s often the two most important weeks of someone’s year and they spend a lot of time researching to make sure they’ve made the right choice.
‘Although nothing will beat actually setting foot on a beach, VR is helping customers to imagine themselves on that holiday during their research phase and we have seen customers book a type of holiday they hadn’t previously considered after using a VR headset.
‘While we are always looking for new and innovative ways to best serve our customers, it’s important for us that any technology, like VR, becomes a natural and useful part of the overall in store experience and that it complements our trusted in store staff.’
It aims to have 25 ‘discovery’ stores by the end of 2019 with VR. This includes brand new stores as well as a rolling programme of refurbishments of existing stores in key areas. These discovery stores are located in higher footfall areas, Thomas Cook says, such as shopping centres and out of town retail parks.
It believes VR and other technology help to create an immersive and interactive experience, bringing to life all aspects of a trip away, from the flight to the hotel. It says plans are afoot to increase the number and variety of videos available through its VR experience in the coming months.
Thomas Cook announced plans to close 39 branches earlier in the year, shrinking its shop presence from 758 stores to 719. More than three quarters of Britons booked their holidays online last year according to ABTA, the UK’s largest travel association – while just one fifth did in a high street shop.