Justin Sienkowski

Virtual Reality Will Take Travel Journalism to a New Frontier

VR

Image via www.emaze.com

Journeying through the Amazon, swimming in the Mediterranean and wandering the streets of Paris – these are all experiences that most people would be happy to partake in. Unfortunately, the majority of us  have not had the privilege of extensive travel. So we rely on journalists to explore the world for us and transmit back writings, pictures and videos so that we can get a taste of these places half a world away.

The development of virtual reality technology, however, will give travel journalists a whole new way to convey their travels to their audience, allowing an unprecedented consumer experience.

Up until this point, most of the talked-about uses for virtual reality have focused on adding to either video games or movies, but the travel industry is also taking notice of VR’s powerful capabilities. While some might think that virtual reality might negate the need for actual travel, many in the travel industry are betting that by using virtual reality they can gain a leg up in attracting potential travelers.

Travel agency Thomas Cook and hotel chain Marriot have both experimented with virtual reality to allow potential customers take a virtual tour of their resorts or locations. While virtual reality may very well have an important impact on the future of the travel business, there is still a huge subset of the population who can’t for one reason or the other travel to these locales. This is where virtual reality could become a major medium for journalistic use.

Publications such as National Geographic have enthralled readers who use it as an escape to remote corners of the world. The advent of video gave them the ability to get live-action looks into these exotic locations. Still, there is nothing like actually being there, and virtual reality could provide as close a substitute as possible. It takes all of our senses to truly tap into the world around us, and virtual reality would give a depth to travel media that would be difficult to match by any other use of the technology. Although the technology would likely be expensive and difficult to tote around the globe, I predict that whatever media outlet is the first to take full advantage of this new technology in their coverage of travel and the world will become the leading outlet in travel media. Ultimately, it will depend on the way journalists use virtual reality to immerse the viewer in not only the environment but also the story.

This technology will open up new possibilities to bring the stories of the far reaches of the world into our home, but a monetary model will also be a big question mark moving forward. Long-time travel writer and editor Don George said in an article on National Geographic’s website in 2014 that there is a lot changing within the travel writing world in terms of where and how content is created, and this was before VR became a popular potential medium for news.

“Going forward, who decides editorial focus? Who vets editorial content? If the funding for independent third-party travel outlets such as newspapers, magazines, and websites dries up, who will dictate the content? If there’s no budget to pay independent travel writers, how can they maintain their independence? Who will pay for the mind-expanding narratives that explore the wide world outside and the soul-stretching essays that explore the wide world inside?” said George.

Content marketing and native advertising, in a similar fashion to what Marriot has done, could become a prominent way to fund travel media, but I still see a lot of potential for independent news organizations to create unique and engaging content that could be funded through consumer subscriptions or advertising money.

VR is a technology that could cause some major shifts in the way media is consumed in a number of different ways, but I think that travel media has the most to gain. The inherently sensory nature of travel media would lend itself to one of the most engaging uses for the new technology and could substantially change the travel media industry.

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