Virtual reality is very likely the future of online transactions. Companies like Ikea, Anthropologie, and even Williams Sonoma have already hopped on board the VR train, using it to show consumers how their potential purchases would look IRL. And now, Airbnb is the newest company to commandeer this technology: The company just announced it’s developing both virtual reality and augmented reality features.
Airbnb has actually been looking into integrating VR technology since early 2016, according to The Drum. And while development is still in its early stages, the official announcement serves to solidify the company’s dedication to creating an “immersive” travel experience that goes beyond just booking a room.
This is something Airbnb has been doing successfully for a while now, thanks to features like “Experiences” and “Restaurants”, which provide curated itineraries of things to do and eat in various cities around the world—thereby streamlining the travel experience and incentivizing travelers to plan their whole trip via the website. No longer just a site where you can book inexpensive accomodations for your backpacking trip, Airbnb is rapidly turning into somewhat of a full-on virtual travel agent.
“There was a time when the only easy travel option was to get to a city, take a shuttle bus to a hotel, and book attractions in the brochures in the lobby,” wrote the company in a blog post announcing the VR development. “Today when traveling, people can live like locals in a downtown apartment in the arts district, eat at local cafes, and take classes from homegrown artists—today’s travel is experiential travel.”
By using both VR and AR technology, Airbnb hopes to reduce the travel barriers (i.e., language, logistical differences, foreign customs) that may hinder people from seeing more of the world. This comes in two forms.
The VR component, which will provide 3D scans and 360-degree images of each listing, comes before you book your trip. As anyone who has ever booked an Airbnb that looked great in the handful of carefully-staged online images but less than stellar in person will tell you, this is definitely a welcome update.
The AR part of this development actually comes during the trip itself. When in an Airbnb accommodation, travelers will be able to use the technology—presumably via a mobile app—to look around their rental and uncover useful information.
For example, users might soon be able to use AR to figure out where the coffee mugs in their Airbnbs are (manual searches are very 2016), or translate thermostat instructions. Airbnb also hinted at more in-depth uses for AR, such as informing the user of the story behind personal items in the host’s home… which, if we’re being honest, is either a sweet gesture of hospitality, or kind of an unnecessary, creepy intrusion into a stranger’s personal affairs. It could go either way.
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