InstaVR Interviews: Meet the VR Practitioners
InstaVR Interviews is a blog series where we turn the spotlight on our customers. We find out why they create VR, how they use InstaVR, and what the future of VR will look like. To read more interviews, visit the InstaVR Interviews homepage.
Chris Carmichael, Innovation Lab Manager at TUI Group
TUI Group is one of the world’s top tourism businesses. A multinational headquartered in Hanover, Germany, their business lines traverse almost all sectors of the travel industry, including: 1600 travel agencies, 6 airlines (150 aircraft), 300 hotels (214,000 beds), and 16 cruise liners. Collectively, the 67,000 employees of TUI Group service over 20 million customers in 180 regions.
Chris Carmichael manages the Innovation Lab at TUI Destination Services, based in the company’s Palma de Mallorca, Spain office. His organization is tasked with utilizing technology to improve the overall business and customer experience. Through InstaVR they’ve created over 90 apps for the Gear VR, which they’ve distributed to their properties across the globe.
Chris discusses how they got into VR, why they selected InstaVR, and the tangible impact that VR has on travel excursion bookings at locations using the technology. Thank you to Chris Carmichael and TUI Group!
The Innovation Lab at TUI tests, learns, and tries out new ideas and concepts
Question: Tell us about what you do at TUI Group?
Answer: I work in Destination Services. We look after everything that happens on holiday destinations. So our people pick up our guests when they arrive at the airport, they make sure they get them into their transfers, they look after them in the hotels, they look after them in excursions, they run things like sports events and child care in the hotels themselves, and then we take people back to the airport and make sure they get back safely. So it’s the entire holiday experience — we create smiles!
My role is I run the Innovation Lab, where we aim to test, learn, and try out new ideas and concepts. We work out where the business opportunities are for us — quickly, cheaply, and easily. Where we find opportunities, we help the business areas exploit them and move into those new areas, pushing the business forward.
Samsung Gear VR gave TUI a solid, reusable, good quality product to start testing with
Question: How did you get interested in VR?
Answer: It started when Google announced Cardboard. So we got a hold of a couple Cardboards, put some Android phones in, and looked at some of the sample content. The immediate thought for me was: we could use this to help sell our excursions. We looked into it a bit, but Cardboard obviously wasn’t strong enough for rolling out into hotels. We kept an eye out on the market, and eventually the Gear VR from Samsung came along. It gave us a solid, reusable, good quality product that we could actually start testing with.
I had to figure out how we could get content from our excursions that we could use for helping our guests choose and purchase the best excursions for them. We did that by going out and taking lots and lots of photos with DSLRs and stitching them together, to create some 360 photo content. We also did some very early experimentation with video, when the Ricoh Theta came on the market.
TUI conducted three trials of VR, seeing compelling evidence it was worth investing in VR headsets and 360 photos as part of the selling experience of their excursions
Question: How did you know VR was something that would prove valuable to TUI Group?
Answer: We went out to one of our hotels to test what our guests thought of the VR excursion. They liked it. The reps working at the hotels liked it. And it looked like it had an effect on the number of sales. So we did a second trial, this time with a few more headsets. Again, we saw good feedback from both the guests and the reps.
So we did one last trial to see if this was really worth investing in. We used it for a season in Mallorca at four hotels, where our sales hadn’t changed in years. We knew exactly what the expectations were for sales. We saw some pretty compelling evidence it was worth investing in VR headsets and 360 photos as part of the selling experience for our excursions.
This year we decided we’d draw it out into 3 of our hotel brands. Certainly the Mediterranean parts of those, which is just over 50 headsets we brought out. We shipped Nikon KeyMission 360 cameras out to our people at each of the resorts, asking them to take pictures of the best points on their excursions.
They shipped those back to us and we put them into InstaVR to build up apps for each of the excursions. So when you’re selling the Island Tour excursion, for example, the rep can click Island Tour, put the phone into the Gear VR headset, and the guest can straightaway start seeing some of the key points that they would see experiencing the excursion. So far it’s something that really seems to be effecting the conversion.
TUI uses VR to start having conversations, feature hard to describe excursions, and help theater show attendees pick seats
Question: How are you using VR now to better sell your excursions?
Answer: Many of our hotels are very exclusive TUI properties. You’ll get a 600 bed hotel full of families, entirely our customers. When you put a shiny Gear VR headset at the end of the excursion rep’s table, it’s a great way to get people to come and talk to our reps. We use it to start having conversations. We use it when our guests have a question about a particular excursion.
Some things are more difficult to describe than others. For instance, on Mallorca, we have an upside-down house with all sorts of entertainment inside, and a large climbing area outside, a laser shooting area, mini-golf — there’s about 30 different things to do at this place. But it’s very difficult to label it. So you give the headset to the guest, and say, “Here are the things you’ll be able to do.” They buy into that.
It’s also been useful for upselling. For instance, we have a theater show on Mallorca that is very popular. They sell different ticket prices depending on how close you are to the stage. So you are at a table, and there’s a meal provided before the show starts, and the closer you are, the better the view. Our reps have been using the empty theater shot in the Gear VR to show people roughly where they’re going to sit, and therefore where they could improve their view if they bought a more expensive ticket.
TUI upgraded from the basic Oculus software to InstaVR
Questions: Why did you first start using InstaVR as an authoring platform?
Answer: The reason we started using InstaVR is because Oculus changed the way their software works. In previous trials, we used folders on the phone, with each excursion having a different folder with the photos loaded in there. And the Oculus software would let you browse to that particular folder. So from our reps’ perspective, they would browse to that excursion, and then there’d be a slideshow going through the different photos. They changed that just as we were about to start rolling out the first headsets this year, and it was a lot more random — the photos that would appear. And they’d start mixing in some of their own “promoted photos” into the folder as well. It just wasn’t working for us.
I started investigating what would be involved in building out apps, and that’s where I came across InstaVR. I tried you and I tried another solution, and I decided I liked yours the best. That’s why we’re using InstaVR.
TUI has created more than 90 apps using InstaVR — “It takes us about an hour to create each app. InstaVR’s done everything we’ve needed of it!”
Question: What is your process for using InstaVR? What are some of the greatest benefits of the platform?
Answer: The process is we create an app for each excursion. We have more than 90 different apps created at the moment using InstaVR. It’s a fairly simple process — particularly the app creation part. I was looking for a mature technical solution, not create something from scratch. There’s a team here that chooses the best photos we’ve got, then our graphics team edits to remove tripods. Then members of the team here take turns building the apps.
We have five Nikon cameras, a couple of Ricohs, and a Samsung 360. They were moving around our different destinations. When a location would send us back the images, we’d process them and build the apps using InstaVR.
We put a link somewhere near the bottom of each image that will take them to the next image. It’s very simple what we’ve done with them. That’s another big advantage we found using InstaVR over Oculus’ own 360 software — with them you have to swipe to take control of the pictures themselves, and getting someone who has never used a headset before to find the swipe pad, and move between the photos, was actually quite tricky. Most of the time we had our reps doing the swiping for them.
With InstaVR, all you have to do is find the link that says “Next”, look at it, it’ll turn white and away you go! We wanted it as simple as possible. It’s easy to explain, and it’s a very very good, very simple way of making the tour work. We’ve had no complaints at all about the ability to use the headsets, which we did previously before InstaVR, with the swiping methods.
It takes us about an hour to create each app. InstaVR’s done everything we’ve needed of it!