How augmented reality travel is changing the tourism industry

By Cristina Ferrandez

With its ability to enhance the real world with overlaid digital components, augmented reality (AR) is fast becoming the tourism industry’s favourite tool. While AR was invaluable in helping companies that rely on tourism keep their customers engaged during worldwide lockdowns, the innovative technology was already gaining traction even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Augmented reality travel is also likely to experience a boom in post-COVID-19 times. 

The reason the travel industry has always been interested in adopting AR is simple: AR is one of the best ways to supplement travellers’ experiences, and with more than three billion people owning a smartphone, no tourism brand can afford to overlook augmented reality travel apps if they want to stand out from the competition.

Here are some examples of augmented reality travel experiences available to any tourism brand.

1. AR portals 

TAP airlines portal into Lisbon by Poplar Studio
TAP airlines portal into Lisbon by Poplar Studio

One of the best ways to promote destinations, AR portals, which serve as an entrance to new and exciting virtual worlds, can transport customers to completely different environments. In this way, users can explore the world without having to leave their own space. Although similar to virtual reality, AR portals don’t require expensive equipment. Rather, individuals can explore the entire world with their smartphone.

For example, recently, TAP airlines took its customers to a famous square in Lisbon to promote the city as a destination. Users could step off a virtual TAP plane, look around the famous European city, and even take pictures of themselves there as if they really were touring Lisbon. This experience is beneficial in two ways. One, it’s a way for TAP to let its customers know that it flies to Lisbon without bombarding them with annoying ads. Two, engaging users with a holiday destination in this way can promote bookings and sales.

Culture Trip did something similar. To promote their first original film, The Soul of Soho, Culture Trip partnered with Poplar Studio to design Facebook portals that brought users to three iconic Sohos of the world in Hong Kong, London, and New York. Individuals could walk around the different Sohos and even “try” the food sold at the various stalls and restaurants. 

2. AR guides

augmented reality travel
Celebrity Cruises’ AR app which shows passengers around its newest luxury cruiser, the “Celebrity Edge”

When visiting popular locations and tourist attractions, it is commonplace for visitors to hire a tour guide to show them around. However, depending on the season, getting a guide may not be so easy — or visitors may be put off by the price. One way around this is to offer the services of a virtual AR tour guide. 

Virtual tour guides can offer a far more personalised experience to users. Depending on the destination, augmented reality travel guides may be historical figures, fictional characters, or real lifelike humans that provide one-on-one interactions and an immersive journey. 

For example, in 2018, visitors at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum were greeted by a hologram of Mae Jemison, the first woman of colour to explore space, who took them on a tour of the Space Shuttle Enterprise and walked them through the history of space in general. 

Also in 2018, London’s Natural History Museum worked with Microsoft to create a holographic David Attenborough, Britain’s most famous natural historian, who shared stories with visitors about some of the artefacts on display.

AR tour guides are not limited to cities or museums, though. In 2018, to promote the launch of its new cruise ship, the “Celebrity Edge,” the luxury cruise line Celebrity Cruises created an AR app with the intent of delighting and exciting passengers by showing them the most innovative spaces on the ship as well as giving them a peek at restricted areas. The tour included holographic versions of some of the company’s most important figures who acted as tour guides and dancers that were part of the ship’s live performances. 

3. AR maps

augmented reality travel
American Airlines’ AR wayfinding app

Whether they’re exploring a new city, navigating a busy airport, or wandering around a theme park, navigating a novel environment or making sense of the information on a physical map can be a real challenge for first-time visitors. Augmented reality travel maps, which use image tracking technology, can make information on a map come to life by adding digital components, such as arrows and other details that point users in the right direction.

For example, American Airlines’ app offers an AR overlay that directs users to important areas, such as the check-in desk and security checkpoint, as well as restaurants and cafes. The app can also display additional information, such as wait times at specific security checkpoints and available security lines.

Similarly, The Hub Hotel from Premier Inn located in London’s Covent Garden displays a map of the city of London in each room, which guests can point their iPhones at to see points of interest overlaid on top of it, and receive orientation before they go out exploring. 

4. Gamified tours

Cedar Point’s “The Battle for Cedar Point” AR experience
Cedar Point’s “The Battle for Cedar Point” AR experience

Although travelling can be fun in and of itself, one way to make it even more engaging is to offer visitors location-based gamification for treasure hunts and challenges that involve collecting rewards. 

Gamified tours typically involve users scanning different images to activate augmented reality travel experiences or mini-games, and are especially appealing to children. 

For example, in 2016, the Ohio-based amusement park Cedar Point, also known as “The Roller Coaster Capital of the World,” integrated “The Battle for Cedar Point” experience into its app. Upon entering the park, visitors could join different clans and compete with other guests by scanning ride signs, game symbols, and t-shirts dotted around the park, which triggered an augmented reality experience. In this way, guests never grew bored, even if they had to wait in line for a ride. 

In addition to keeping guests entertained, the app also improved dwell time at places like restaurants and merchandising stores, thus increasing spend, and helped the park generate traction on social media. 

Getting started with augmented reality travel

With no way of leaving home, familiarity and comfort with virtual and augmented reality travel have grown tremendously during the pandemic. However, even though the world is emerging from lockdowns and things are slowly opening up, that does not mean that augmented reality travel will slip into obscurity. Tourism brands were using AR long before the COVID-19 pandemic made travel impossible, and they will continue to do so long after travel is back. 

With most travel brands still woefully behind when it comes to AR, developing augmented reality travel apps and features can go a long way in helping you stand out. Ready to think about incorporating AR into your travel business? Get in touch with AR experts at Poplar Studio today to talk about all things augmented reality travel.

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