The Next Big Thing

Shortcut to Shangri-La: Virtual reality headsets offer 360-degree tours of cities and hotel group’s properties from Tibet to Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 October, 2015, 5:51pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 October, 2015, 8:15pm

How can you enjoy a 360-degree view from the rooftop of an historic temple in Tibet or the grand ballroom of one of the legendary hotels in Hong Kong without going there in person?

This is where cutting-edge virtual reality (VR) technology comes into play, and a major multinational corporation is now putting it into practice.

READ MORE: ‘The dawn of the virtual reality era’: Oculus Rift headset heralds brave new world of entertainment

Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts is making one of its biggest investments in new technology in recent years to attract clients and world travellers to visit its hotel facilities at various destinations around the world – before they even pack their bags.

Shangri-La, one of the world’s leading luxury hotel chains, announced on Wednesday that it has already begun rolling out Samsung Gear VR headsets - powered by VR technology industry leader Oculus – across its sales teams around the world.

WATCH MORE: Shangri-La's 360-degree tour of Lhasa

The idea is to give the hotel chain’s business partners and potential new clients immersive 360-degree videos simply by strapping on a comfortable headset.

The company said the technology is now available at over a quarter of its 94 hotels and resorts and that nearly half of its hotel portfolio will be covered by January. A full roll-out is due later next year, according to a company statement.

WATCH MORE: 360-degree property tour by Shangri-La

“Shangri-La is investing significantly in technology and the future of travel content, which is why we are embracing virtual reality on this scale,” said Steven Taylor, chief marketing officer of Shangri-La International Hotel Management Ltd.

“VR is a revolutionary new sales tool. The technology has evolved so that it is now affordable, light and portable,” he added.

Indeed, shortly after Facebook, the world’s largest social media network operator, acquired Oculus last year in a deal valued at US$2 billion, the development of VR technology accelerated and also won more buzz among the press and society in general.

People began viewing it as a next-generation computing platform that would facilitate science-fiction-like “jumps” to distant locales in seconds, if only virtually.

Just last month, Oculus hosted its annual developer conference to attract software makers with the promise of a budding “virtual reality era” as well as an alliance with streaming television powerhouse Netflix, the producer of popular American TV drama House of Cards.

“We believe the more power people have to share and experience all kinds of different things in the world, the better the world will be,” Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg told the audience during Oculus’ annual developer conference in Los Angeles.

Hong Kong-headquartered Shangri-La has been stepping up its efforts to expand globally in recent years but is also opening several new properties in China, Hong Kong and Dubai next year.

It is the believed to be the first big international enterprise to adopt VR technology on such a broad scale for sales and marketing purposes, as well as to grow and maintain stronger customer relationships.

“Virtual reality is on the cusp of becoming more mainstream,” said Shangri-La’s Taylor.

Viewing its 360-degree videos is an immersive experience that makes potential customers feel the impact of the property in a way that words and pictures simply cannot.

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Some of the highlights include the array of sights and sounds while standing at the edge of Genghis Khan Square in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar; a virtual tour of the presidential suite at the Shangri-La Hotel in Tokyo; and arguably the best view of Beijing from a guestroom in the tallest building in the Chinese capital - another Shangri-La property.

“We want to employ innovative technology in a way that is meaningful to our trade partners and beneficial to consumers,” said Taylor.

More creative applications are in the pipeline to help customers learn more about hotel facilities and city views and better inform their decision-making process, he added.

Shangri-La currently owns or manages over 90 hotels under that brand with a room inventory of over 39,000. The group has a substantial development pipeline with upcoming projects on the Chinese mainland, Cambodia, India, Myanmar, the Philippines, Qatar and Sri Lanka.

Shangri-La is part of Kerry Group, the controlling shareholder of SCMP Group, publisher of the South China Morning Post.