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 of its ability to add context to your environment, particularly if you’re struggling to understand your surroundings in a foreign country, for example.
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.
There are lots of creative ways to advertise destinations using augmented reality, such as allowing people to imagine themselves at famous landmarks using the front camera, or bringing physical printed brochures to life through content overlays.
Beyond marketing, augmented reality can make the act of travelling itself easier; KLM, for example, introduced an AR feature to their app that allows customers to check that their luggage fits within the hand baggage dimensions.
American Airlines, on the other hand, are helping customers to negotiate complicated airport layouts using AR wayfinding, which can be a lifesaver if you’re in a rush!
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, keeping kids occupied with magical experiences or highlighting interesting things about the surrounding world, AR can add a new dimension to the very act of being transported.
2. Use cases in navigation and discovery
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 will allow it to be communicated in a more clear, intuitive and illuminating 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 be able to visit the Circus Maximus and be taken back to Roman times, with chariots racing around you as they would have 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, perhaps 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 could become a novel form of exploration. Introduce little games that unlock experiences into the equation and you have something between geocaching, Pokemon Go and an escape room.
One novel use of AR was recently produced by Snapchat 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.
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, living the culture, smelling the air or meeting the people. However, being given 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, 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.