Augmented Reality has hit the streets of Amsterdam, converted magazines into Harry Potter-like newspapers, created invisible cloaks and has surfaced on a countless number of apps adapted for smartphones. But Hotels.com is the first online travel agency (OTA) to make virtual vacations a lot more 'real' using Augmented Reality to appeal to would-be travelers and tourists.
Vic WaliaWith Google potentially entering the already crowded OTA space, Hotels.com is smartly looking for a differentiator that will distinguish them from the pack. In a recent interview, Vic Walia, senior director of brand marketing for Hotels.com said, "We're an online travel site. People are experiencing our brand online, anyway," Walia says. "We're giving people a deeper experience. We're providing a useful tool here, which is a way to experience a city without actually going there and understanding what's happening there."
This online experience will build off of Hotel.com television and print advertising campaigns. It's microsite www.virtualvacay.com will allow visitors to use their Web cameras and computer microphones to convert a special "glyph" on print and email ads into a scaled-down, 3D-animated versions of 10 US cities including Las Vegas, New York, Denver and New Orleans.
Hotels.com AR microsite
The augmented reality application uses Hotels.com TV claymation mascot, "Smart" (voice-over provided by Ed Helms) to guide and immerse Web site visitors into these cities almost as if they were teleported. Users can also take a picture of themselves in these virtual cities to share on their social networks and blog sites.
While Hotels.com is utilizing augmented reality to prompt future travelers to consider booking vacations through theirAR in Amsterdam online service, augmented reality also offers additional insights when actually visiting the destination. Imagine taking a trip where you were unencumbered by guidebooks, able to find the best restaurants in town and access public transportation routes quickly and efficiently. Check what Holland was able to accomplish just recently for tourists and local residents in "Augmented Reality Flashmobs Bring Hallucinations to Life in Amsterdam."
I am sure if the Hotels.com augmented reality campaign is a success, Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz will be jumping on the band wagon rather quickly … if not -- the Big G themselves might consider taking a large slice of that pie! (see "Google & ITA Software Could Be Game Changer for OTAs & Travel Industry At Large")