PHOENIX—Does this scenario sound familiar? Before booking, you want to see what the hotel looks like, so you find it on TripAdvisor, an OTA’s website or the hotel’s site. The photos of the hotel look nice; the rooms look clean and feature what looks like high-class FF&E, the restaurant catches your eye and the pool looks safe and inviting for your children. So, you book the hotel. Vacation time comes, and you check in to the hotel only to find the photos don’t tell the real story. Sometimes, the the hotel looks better than the pictures; other times what you see in real life is much worse.
Best Western Hotels & Resorts, headquartered here, has attempted to end the guessing game as to what to expect a hotel should look like inside and out by launching the Best Western Virtual Reality Experience (BWVRE). Prospective guests are now able to view a 360-degree virtual reality tour of nearly 2,000 properties. According to Best Western, it is the first major company of its size and scale to utilize the technology in this way, setting a new industry standard for how virtual reality can be used to enhance the consumer journey.
The VR tours offer a guided 3D video of the hotels, including narration and music. Each video ranges in length from 50 seconds to two minutes, and can be accessed at Best Western’s YouTube channel, Bestwesterntv.
“Before even stepping foot on the property, guests will be able to view guestrooms, lobbies and amenities as if they were there in person,” said Dorothy Dowling, chief marketing officer and SVP of Best Western Hotels & Resorts. “Best Western is a first-mover in this effort, and we know our guests and our hotels will benefit from this game-changing technology.”
According to Tammy Lucas, VP of marketing, the BWVRE was devised to “anticipate the needs of today’s travelers, embracing co-innovation and delivering a superior customer experience.” For the past three years, Best Western has worked in partnership with Google Street View to gather 1.7 million photos of its nearly 2,000 North American hotels. BWVRE videos were developed in 8K resolution, the current highest ultra-high definition video available, far beyond what is available in most consumers’ homes today, according to the company.
“This is a process that we developed internally and at this time it’s a process that we are continuing to refine and tweak,” said Lucas. “A process like this is extremely detailed and complex and requires strong collaboration and coordination between various teams and partners. We have all been working in collaboration to effectively launch and sustain this tremendous momentum.”
Currently, each video features a narration distinct to its brand but, according to Lucas, “As our hoteliers use the videos to promote their properties, we are sure that we will receive request to have custom narrations for the VR video tours.”
BWVRE will be available on all platforms that are supported by HTML5, such as Google Maps, Google Search, YouTube and Facebook. This method allows the broadest distribution for these video assets and the ability for Best Western to continue to enhance the experience over time.
Videos for all U.S. Best Western properties have been created, “with the exception of hotels that have recently come online,” said Lucas. “Once we send our team out to the property to capture the images, then we can create the VR tour.”
Lucas added that the videos will not be exclusive to the company’s YouTube channel. They will also be uploaded to each property’s Facebook page as well.
According to Best Western, the launch of BWVRE comes during the company’s transformative brand refresh. During the past two years, Best Western hotel owners have invested $2 billion in property improvements and renovations across North America. In addition, the company has grown its portfolio from one to seven hotel brands, and recently introduced the SureStay Hotels “white label” franchise model, which will operate as a separate subsidiary and include three brands (see story on page 3). Lucas did not comment on if SureStay hotels will get the VR treatment.
When asked if there were plans for using this technology to promote other things such as brand introductions, company conventions and groundbreaking ceremonies, Lucas responded, “Absolutely, our team is always looking to use this new technology in exciting ways that push the marketing and technology envelope.” HB