About a dozen just-married couples at New York City’s City Hall got surprised last week with a honeymoon to Hawaii. Of course, the trip was less than two-minutes long, and they didn’t really leave Manhattan. I guess if you can’t go on an out-of-town honeymoon, a trip on the Oculus Rift is the next next best thing.
Is this the future of travel? Hardly. It is, however, an early example of how companies are starting to using new filming tools and virtual reality technology to promote their brands. The surprise was courtesy of Marriott’s Teleporter, a 360-degree immersive virtual reality travel tour developed by the hotel chain in close work with Framestore, the visual effects firm that won an Oscar for the movie Gravity.
Watch the couples use the Teleporter in the endearing video below, hosted by fashion and lifestyle expert Louise Roe:
I had a chance to try out the Teleporter as well last week. One minute, I was gazing around a peaceful Maui beach, the ocean spraying my face, the warm breeze rustling my hair. Not a person was in sight. The next minute, as I took off my Oculus Rift headset, I was in the lobby of a Marriott Marquis hotel in the least peaceful place in New York City: the middle of Times Square.
It didn’t feel like I was really at the beach, but I did get a taste of the beach in a way that no glossy image or video clip could ever deliver. I could look around, turn my head—and it didn’t even make me nauseous, a common VR hazard.
The two Teleporters kicked off an eight-city tour in New York (schedule here). In each city, one teleporter, which consists of a phone booth-style station with an Oculus headset, headphones, and other sensory simulation tools like a vibrating floor and spray misters, will be stationed in a Marriott hotel. Another will be roving around these cities doing surprise pop-ups.
Marriott, which is busy brainstorming and trying out lots of new ideas for its hotels lately, put a lot of thought into choosing the two locations for the virtual trips; one is the Hawaiian beach and the other brings you to the top of a London’s Tower 42 skyscraper. “They are far enough away that it constitutes an actual trip. They are achievable enough for people to actually say, hey, I could go there,” says Michael Dail, Marriott Hotels brand marketing vice president.
Mike Woods, Framestore’s executive creative director, believes there’s no limit to the consumer and entertainment industry businesses that could benefit from interacting with their customers or viewers with immersive technology. “What’s next is sitting down with clients and explaining why some things do work and some things don’t–whether it’s right for their brand or IP or whether what they’d like to do is going to make you feel sick. There’s a lot of that at the moment–sort of testing the waters and seeing whether 360 immersion is right for a brand or an experience,” he says. (You can read more in Woods’s Fast Company piece, “8 Tips For Making Virtual Reality Viable”).
There are other challenges and limitations. The filming pioneered a new technique for capturing 3-D, 360-degrees live action video and then mixing it with CGI to enhance the realistic “really there” sensation (see a video of how it was made). Each travel session begins in a real Marriott lobby in Baltimore–rendering the lobby in one-millimeter detail took Framestore two months, says Woods. With today’s technology at least, this kind of quality is not going to be feasible for every project.
Ian Clearly, ideation and innovation vice president of Relevent, the experiential marketing agency that worked with Marriott to develop the concept, also notes that there’s a reason there’s no people on the VR version of the Maui beach. Without movie studio-level budgets, it’s much harder to render humans in a realistic way than it is to render scenery: “If you don’t do it perfectly, people will really notice.”
At least in that respect, the virtual visit might be better than a real one. It’s probably not super easy for average honeymooners to get a Maui beach all to themselves.