Barbados and other Caribbean destinations have been encouraged to tap into the growing virtual reality (VR) market as they continue to adapt to a new normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ed Limon, a producer at a Canadian digital media production firm that uses Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality (AR) to create content for global brands, has suggested that the pandemic, which has led to several countries closing their borders, offers the opportunity for tourism destinations to use technology to keep people interested in their product offering even as they slowly reopen.
Limon, Digital Media Producer and Creative Director at Winged Whale Media, told Barbados TODAY that with restricted movement and many major events being cancelled including conferences, tours and sporting events, countries have started to look for solutions that would still allow people to attend some events virtually.
He said: “We talk about accessibility, but the beauty is also the interaction component. So within these platforms we can have about 50 travel agents or 50 professionals from around the world for example, to attend an event in Barbados and interact with each other.
“Right now everyone is trying to pivot and make their airports ready to reopen as they move into different phases, and then there are restrictions to some countries like the US… this is where the VR is an advantage.”
The virtual reality producer suggested that countries and organizations consider putting some of the monies being saved from marketing and other areas into VR technology that would boost their offerings.
“Because you are saving those dollars, and I know countries have to pivot them to the frontline to deal with COVID-19, but if there is any other way to market or get to market you can pivot those dollars to platforms like this,” he suggested.
He acknowledged that in using the technology people would not be able to touch and smell the physical location, but said it was the “closest thing to reality right now”.
Limon said: “This is not to replace the experience of an actual fam trip for example. But you are able to sell the destination… Immersive experiences are incredibly powerful.
“Due to COVID-19 everyone is looking at solutions. Everyone is trying to find ways to continue life as we know it, and it is not that our platform is to replace what would be a fam trip [familiarisation trip], our platform is more an additional strategic resource where people can still participate and have engaging conversations,” he explained.
Winged Whale Media, which began in 2007, has been implementing VR systems in several destinations. Limon said that in addition to tourism, the VR platforms could be used in several industries and for numerous activities including entertainment and health sectors, the justice system, museum tours, lectures and sporting events.
He added: “For economic development that is huge. When you look at foreign direct investment purposes countries are using VR trying to showcase the beauty of a location and to get someone to invest in your city.
“The beauty of this platform is that there is statistics that virtual reality retains 80 per cent of users attention compared to traditional online platforms. The reason why, people control their experience.”
Limon said that several colleges and universities have now started to use VR technology due to the COVID-19 pandemic.