ar in travel

AR in travel: 3 ways AR is shaping the industry

By Laurie Ainley

Whether it’s by taking you to a virtual sun-kissed Bali beach, or allowing you to check for any baggage surcharges ahead of your airport arrival, augmented reality is already having an impact on the travel industry through your very smartphone.

AR is a natural fit for travel because it adds context to your environment. Particularly if you struggle with understanding your surroundings in a foreign country. 

Below, I break down some uses of AR in travel for both advertising and practical applications, showing examples of recent real-world projects, as well as more speculative futuristic ideas.

1. Use cases by travel companies

A good example of a company tantalising customers with a sneak peek of a holiday destination is Lufthansa, who built AR portals allowing users to step out onto a balcony and take in the skylines of New York and Hong Kong.

Lufthansa give you a rooftop view across New York and Hong Kong through their AR portals.

There are lots of creative ways to advertise destinations using augmented reality. Some examples are allowing people to imagine themselves at famous landmarks using their camera or bringing printed brochures to life through content overlays.

Beyond marketing, augmented reality can make the act of travelling itself easier; KLM introduced an AR feature to their app allowing customers to check that their luggage fits the hand baggage dimensions.

Simply measure your luggage’s dimensions using your phone’s camera

American Airlines, on the other hand, are helping customers to negotiate complicated airport layouts using AR wayfinding; it’s a lifesaver if you’re in a rush!

Although a concept, it’s easy to see how companies can learn from their customers by their use of AR, their interactions and the impact on their behaviours

Companies can learn from their customers by their use of AR, their interactions and its impact on their behaviours.

Augmented reality also provides the chance to bring entertainment to your environment. Eurostar produced a virtual reality experience giving travellers an imaginary underwater adventure from their seats. It’s easy to imagine a similar experience transforming a plane or train carriage.

Whether comforting nervous flyers with more tranquil surroundings, occupying kids with magical experiences or highlighting interesting things about the surrounding world, AR adds a new dimension to the very act of transportation.

2. Use cases in navigation and discovery

ar in travel

Returning to the theme of navigation, I envisage a future where a person walking down a street will be able to learn about their surroundings just by looking around: where to head for the best Chinese food, which hotels have accommodation available, friend recommendations, etc. Overlaying this information onto the real world with augmented reality gps allows it to be communicated in a more clear way.

It will be truly enlightening to merge the present with the past through augmented reality. For example, it would be an exhilarating experience to visit the Circus Maximus and go back to Roman times, with chariots racing around you as they did thousands of years ago. Equally, directing visitors to points of interest and giving them context in their own language could introduce tourists to remarkable stories that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. An obvious extension of this would be to offer walking tours of cities, led by historical figures giving accounts of the past, mixed with reconstructions of events and their context in history.

In a world where buildings can be drawn on and virtual art introduced into spaces, I envision discovering works of augmented art in various locations becoming a novel form of exploration. Through augmented reality gpswe can introduce little games that unlock experiences into the equation and you have something between geocaching, Pokemon Go and an escape room.

Snapchat recently produced one novel use of AR here in London. The famous Big Ben clock tower is currently undergoing maintenance work, so to improve the experience for tourists, Snapchat produced a geofenced lens that allows them to peel away the scaffolding and apply a snow globe effect, restoring its role as a centrepiece for Christmas card photos.
Restoring Big Ben to its full glory through Snapchat’s snow globe lens

In the short term, I think the ability for a person to experience a place through augmented reality without physically being there is more of an opportunity than a threat to tourism. In the next five to ten years, it’s not going to replace the true experience of visiting another country or seeing the culture. However, having a more immersive experience through augmented reality will certainly tempt people to travel there in the first place, so exploring the opportunities of AR in travel ought to be a high priority as the medium evolves.

3. Future use cases of AR in travel

AR truly has the potential to revolutionise all aspects of travelling because it is the next iteration of our interface with technology, and a truly immersive one.

I believe we will reach a stage where people will wear some form of device to augment the world around them, whether via a headset, glasses, contact lenses or something else. Once mature, this will be the most seamless way to blend information and media into the real world. As far as AR in travel goes, this means guiding people from one place to another with augmented reality gps, giving them context about their surroundings and providing a whole extra dimension of experience.

In the coming years, I would like to see a lot more functional uses for augmented reality. It would be great to be introduced to your accommodation and shown how to use facilities via an augmented reality experience, or to be shown where the various controls on a hire car are. I think in the next 12-18 months, we’ll see more of these use cases emerging as web AR (delivered through the browser) starts to gain adoption, reducing the barriers to usage, on top of hardware and software improvements.

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