- Airbnb, the short-term rental startup with more than 3 million property listings worldwide, said immersive technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are giving hosts and guests new tools to reduce barriers to travel research and booking, according to a blog post. The company said it's focused on experimenting with the technologies, especially VR before guests plan a trip and AR during their travels.
- VR technology, which creates a completely immersive experience in computer-generated surroundings, can let a person virtually step inside a home or city and understand what to expect and how to orient themselves before they arrive. According to the company, 3-D scans and 360-degree photos will take travel planning to "the next level." Looking ahead, Airbnb VR capabilities will let guests share virtual worlds to peruse destinations and home options while interacting in a more natural manner.
- AR, which overlays computer-generated images over a real background seen through a smartphone camera, can be used to help travelers obtain information about their vacation more seamlessly, especially in foreign countries with different languages. Homes that include AR guides can show guests where to find things like coffee cups or extra pillows, for example, without having to fumble through an unfamiliar space.
Airbnb's blog post about AR and VR is mostly a primer for property owners and travelers who haven't yet considered how the technologies can transform travel and tourism. While some futurists foresee VR as a tool that will physically isolate people from the outer world as they cocoon themselves in computer-generated worlds, Airbnb says it's building tools to do just the opposite by letting people connect with new people or places in more immersive ways.
The challenge for Airbnb will be to develop affordable and intuitive tools that let average homeowners create VR and AR experiences for their guests. Tourism promotion groups and professionally managed facilities like airports are already adopting the technologies to help travelers plan trips or navigate their surroundings, but it will likely be more challenging to ensure the tech is easy enough for the average consumer — who doesn't hold a degree in computer science or anything tech-related — to use it to develop rich experiences through AR and 360-degree photos.
At the same time, Airbnb needs to make the VR tools simple for prospective guests to be able to virtually explore a home's interior and surrounding neighborhood in order for the tech to provide any value. AR could require additional programming and possibly in-home beacons that help orient mobile devices and share information with guests who are looking for virtual notes or postings inside a home.