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CVBs & DMOs Implement Virtual Travel Tech to Attract Meeting Planners

Convention & Visitor Bureau Tech

There’s one place every meeting and event planner has visited in researching possible sites: Listville. Yes, the land of lists—lists of hotels, lists of square footage, lists of attractions. Even though this is important information, eyes glaze and attention wanes after two or three clicks.

“It’s not that engaging or interactive,” says Greg Murtha, president of XplorIt, an experiential, immersive virtual travel platform focused on the destination and meeting industry. “It’s really about how do you create a game-like visual environment that activates people? How do you show the breadth and geo-spatial surroundings of a city like Santa Clara (Calif.) or Los Angeles? And for most of our clients, we’re at least doubling the time on site.”

Murtha describes this technology as the “Swiss Army knife, the smartphone of virtual technologies.” At santaclara.org XplorIt partnered with the Santa Clara CVB to create a platform-agnostic, virtual reality (VR) aerial overview map of the city embedded with integrated waypoints (including a real-time traffic cam) that invites further 360-degree exploration of the city’s convention center, hotels, event spaces and attractions.

See virtual view by XplorIT

Explorit Santa Clara

With one click, you can fly down in front of the Santa Clara Convention Center and enter and evaluate its different event spaces. Another click lands you in its sun-dappled Mission City Ballroom. Want to check out the attached Hyatt Regency Santa Clara? Click on “lobby,” then go outside and teleport to the hotel—while you’re exploring, a video inset explains more about the Hyatt and area attractions.

So why VR? For David Andre, vice president of marketing and communications at the Santa Clara CVB, it’s a perfect fit for Silicon Valley’s high-tech prominence.

“It’s definitely the wave of the future—the 360-degree images, the aerial views,” he says, calling that his favorite aspect. “It’s just all incredible content, especially for people who are marketing a destination or a facility.”

Andre says visitors spend an average of four minutes and 45 seconds on the website—that’s immersion and, as such, can translate into sales.

“It’s definitely a tremendous tool that our sales team uses,” he adds. “The interactive VR tours allow us to share a preview of Santa Clara with prospective clients.”

The XplorIt platform doesn’t just live on websites and smartphones as a pocket sales tool, but is also used for trade show events. At IMEX America 2016, the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board unveiled its new virtual travel platform, Virtual Discovery L.A., where clients not only encountered a huge walk-up touchscreen, but also a virtual lounge with comfy chairs and VR headsets.

Virtual Discovery L.A.—the largest custom virtual experience that’s ever been created for any city—was developed in partnership with XplorIt. It puts Los Angeles’ 4,000 square miles into perspective, allowing users to explore the city’s top destinations, venues, hotels, entertainment options and attractions. Want to get a taste of The Getty? Ride the Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica pier? Ah, but now for the L.A. Convention Center—teleporting there gives you the option with page controls and insets to drill down into that very important square footage information, while giving you an immersive sense of not only the room, but the facility and the city itself.

Randie Adam, CTA, vice president of marketing and visitor services for Cincinnati USA, sees VR as a natural fit for travel, and their 360-degree VR campaign is largely focused on in-person experiences at trade shows. Why does imagery drive engagement? Adam points out that it’s about the emotion you feel when watching.

“VR allows us to put the viewer in the destination to begin to experience that emotion,” she says, noting that almost everyone watches the entire three-minute-long presentation.

Tony Mugavero, co-founder and CEO of Littlstar, a platform for 360-degree content, explains the key: “You need to be able to see everything in 360 degrees to kind of give a sense of what it feels like to be there—particularly if you put on a VR headset. A traditional video is a fixed frame, any number of camera angles, lighting, etc.”

See Littlstar 360-degree

littlstar VR
Mugavero has also noticed the VR experience is increasing the time people both view and replay content.

“People may have missed something they wanted to check out,” he says. “So it ends up providing a richer, more engaging experience around the content. Even on mobile apps, we see seven to 10 minutes of spend time. In a VR headset, we’re seeing more like a 20-minute average session time.”

And that experience can begin a process of engagement, visits and bookings. Barrie Perks, CTA, vice president of sales and services for Cincinnati USA, has seen those numbers increase.

“We used our engagement at the 2016 IMEX trade show as a benchmark for success of the VR project,” he says. “We had a 60 percent increase of client visits from 2015. Of these visits, we experienced a 59 percent increase in RFPs from 2015. The RFPs we received in 2016 were worth a 73 percent increase in room nights from the year before.”

Even more than the numbers, Perks saw in real time the emotional effect the VR campaign had on an audience of 2,000 people at a trade show in Orlando.

“I brought the organizer of the trade show on stage and put the headset on him,” he says. “A gigantic screen showed everyone what he was seeing. When it ended to thunderous applause, I knew we did it right.”

But it’s not just VR that is capturing viewers. Fort Lauderdale, Fla., launched a 24/7 digital TV network, Hello Sunny TV (www.sunny.org/tv), in December that allows global visitors to access content on demand. The feedback from visitors in general and meeting planners in particular is outstanding, according to Stacy Ritter, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB.

“Our meeting planner community—especially our meeting planner Customer Advisory Board—regularly asks us to communicate continuously about new happenings in Greater Fort Lauderdale so that they are better informed and educated on the destination,” Ritter says. “They are especially interested in lifestyle experiences that are new, surprising and one-of-a-kind, and that’s what Hello Sunny TV is all about.”

Launched around 18 months ago, VISITSEATTLE.tv (a sister site to visitseattle.org) also highlights lifestyle and unique cultural experiences using Seattle as the backdrop and guest star. Visit Seattle has partnered with quite a few media companies, such as NBC, CBS, FOX and Matador, to create original video content to help tell visitors the story of the city. The campaign won two HSMAI Adrian awards this year, and Visit Seattle received three U.S. Travel Association 2017 Destiny Awards last month for its marketing efforts.

“We just reached 20 million views of our video content,” says Nick Hawley, director of marketing for Visit Seattle. “Our channels have only been around for a little less than two years and our website traffic has continued to increase every single quarter. We went that route because we found that people are not only consuming all sorts of video content throughout their daily life but also during all stages of the travel planning cycle.”

Sounds By the Sound, a five-season, 40-episode, music-focused, full-length show (also shown on broadcast television) highlights up-and-coming bands in iconic areas of the city. First Takes shows Seattle through the perspective of first-time visitors. When pressed, Hawley says Been There, Made That is his personal favorite. It features five different makers who were invited to experience the city and return home to create a manifestation of their inspiration. One of these was Emily King—a Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter from New York City—whose explorations resulted in the inspiration for “Emily’s Song.”

These creations are not limited to a webpage and YouTube, but cross-pollinate throughout the Visit Seattle ecosystem of social media, sales and meetings.

“We use Twitter as not only this great platform for engagement but we also treat it as a kind of digital concierge,” Hawley says. “So when people tweet us either with the hashtag #visitSeattle or #HEYSEATTLE, our team is standing by.”

Members of the sales team send specific meeting planners content that they love and think the planners would like to see. First Takes is suggested as especially valuable for planners to share with attendees. This content can also be displayed on hotel TVs during an event and on a custom microsite.

“Once business is booked, we help the meeting planner develop a microsite that we can host with whatever content they want their delegates to see,” Hawley says.

This personalization of destination marketing is a trend also noticed by Sam Rogers, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Visit Baltimore.

“Millennials are more compelled by customized and authentic messaging and focus less on the sell and more about aligning with their own personal interests,” Rogers says.

To that end, Visit Baltimore created the My Bmore personality-based campaign that runs across multiple platforms, of which video is only a part.

Specifically crafted to appeal to meeting and event professionals, the campaign targeted strong vertical segments, such as healthcare and tech.

“The idea was to showcase the authentic thoughts and experiences of well-known personalities who are either from Baltimore or have a personal connection to the city,” Rogers says. “It was our hope that by using these personalities to promote Baltimore, the city’s tourism appeals—history, culture, culinary, meetings, etc.—will be brought to life and humanized in an engaging and authentic way to break through the advertising clutter.”

The My BMore campaign received a 2017 Silver Addy for Integrated Advertising Campaign - Regional/National - Consumer, highlighting the appeal of a personality-based campaign.

The Daytona Beach (Fla.) Area CVB launched its personality-driven campaign in January, featuring NASCAR driver Danica Patrick (also the first woman to lead the Indy 500) at www.DaytonaBeach.com/Danica.

The choice of the larger-than-life personality of Danica was a natural fit for the campaign.

“Danica Patrick has loved Daytona Beach since the days of her childhood family vacations,” says Kate Holcomb, director of communications for the CVB. “Like many visitors, she is passionate about the destination and it shows. She’s the perfect spokesperson for this campaign.”

The videos are strategically placed throughout DaytonaBeach.com, featuring the range of activities available and with the message that “Daytona Beach is totally your speed.”

This campaign is further integrated across multiple social media platforms, including Danica’s 92 million social media followers.


About the Author

Dian Barber - Writer
Dian Barber

Dian Barber is a data wrangler and has been contributing photography, research and writing to MPI’s publications since 2005.