New VR app gives a glimpse of the past, and a promise of future revenues

Virtual reality is mostly used by the travel industry for promotion, but it can also generate fresh revenues as Andrew Hennigan finds out

In 2015 virtual reality started moving towards the mainstream, thanks to the availability of cheap virtual reality headsets like Google CardBoard and affordable virtual reality production (Virtual reality: on the road to becoming mainstream?  EyeforTravel, September 4, 2015). This year, the trend is accelerating as both apps and cheap smartphone viewers become widely available.

Recently Tourism Australia launched a major promotional campaign based on virtual reality delivered through a free app for the Cardboard viewer. Similarly this year Club Med is using virtual reality to help people experience resorts at a distance, and even to explore underwater scuba diving opportunities. All of these virtual resources help to promote bricks-and-mortar destinations but for the moment they only generate revenue indirectly.

Time for change

Change is afoot, however, with the arrival of an innovative new startup called Timelooper.

Effectively a virtual time machine, Timelooper helps users travel back in time by watching animated historical scenes using a smartphone app and headset, currently being tested in London and New York. What makes Timelooper unusual is the way it is tied to the physical location and how it can generate revenue for itself and its business partners.

“Timelooper is an open virtual reality platform for cultural and historic locations,” says founder Yigit Yigiter. “We create content in-house and host third-party content, and when we monetise content via the app we share revenue with the content owner.” 

Like most app start ups, Timelooper considers multiple revenue sources. “The app is free but we will have in-app purchases like premium content, advertising and a few other revenue streams,” he says.

London locations featured in the Timelooper app include the river Thames, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, where visitors equipped with the app and a Cardboard headset can relive what the Tower looked like 750 years ago.

Adding value

Using the motion detectors in the smartphone, users can look around the virtual scene to immerse themselves in the past. The app is location-based so the user has to be physically present to view the virtual content. This makes it more attractive to destination marketers because it brings the people to the actual site rather than simply enjoying the experience from home. This physical presence also reinforces the sensation of being in a virtual version of the location.

A visit to the Tower is already on the wish list of most visitors, but the addition of virtual time travel makes it even more interesting and attractive to consumers. So it’s not just the operator of the attraction that benefits.

Ruth Polling, a London Blue Badge guide, also uses the Timelooper app to make her visits more compelling to tourists.

“Much of my work as a guide in London is with family groups and they are looking for a personal service,” she says. “As a storyteller I am paid to engage visitors with London’s amazing history. To be able to tell the story of an event and then be able to actually show it happening using Timelooper’s virtual reality adds to that personal service. “

Simply offering a virtual underwater tour of a reef or a virtual hike in the Himalayas is unlikely to attract paying users as long as companies like Google and destination marketers provide this service for free.

However, what Timelooper shows is that one way to monetise virtual reality is to generate proprietary content and offer that as a premium product. It also shows that the same app can generate revenues from multiple sources like sponsorship, advertising, premium content, commercial licenses and more.

This is likely to inspire more businesses in their quest to make virtual tourism the destination rather than just the promotion.

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