The tourism industry has begun to recognise the enormous potential that computer-mediated reality has to transform the whole travel experience. JFK Airport is one of the latest in the industry to leverage this technology, by offering virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) experiences to customers.

Thanks to VR, MR and augmented reality (AR), customers can experience destinations, hotels, or even the inside of an airplane before the trip, from the comfort of their own home.

By wearing VR or AR gear while visiting historical sites, tourists can also experience historical scenes or see ancient buildings in perfect condition, even if in reality the monuments are now crumbling or have long disappeared.

In an airport, passengers can better find their bearings thanks to AR-equipped smartphone applications.

This technology is expected to transform the sector by changing how customers choose their holidays and interact with tourism brands, and how companies interact with them in turn.

The entertaining potential of VR in airports

Although the majority of airports that include AR, VR or MR solutions in their offerings understood the potential of computer-mediated reality — AR in particular — to offer reliable navigation, boost customers’ experience of reality and ease any frustration by helping them find their way to the departure gates, restaurants, shops or airport lounges via AR-equipped mobile apps, not many have acknowledged the technology’s potential for entertaining customers while waiting for their flight.

Some airports timidly experimented with AR apps for entertaining passengers, one example being Heathrow Airport’s attempt to amuse its young customers by launching the Mr Adventure AR app in July 2017. However, until recently, no airports have been courageous enough to invest in building VR booths.

The attitude of the air travel industry is starting to change however, with the bold cooperation of JFK Airport with Periscape VR and travel retail operator Paradies Lagardère to offer passengers the possibility of immersive VR experiences right in the middle of the airport.

In June 2018, through a collaboration with the content studio and production firm and the travel retailer, the terminal management company JFK International Air Terminal (JFKIAT) launched a six-month pop-up VR experience centre in Terminal 4’s retail lounge. The centre is relatively affordable, with users only having to pay $1-2 per minute for a 5-10 minute experience.

The available experiences are diverse and grouped into five segments: First Time, Experience, Create, Play, and Social Cause — they range from reef migration and whale encounters, to experiencing imaginary worlds in deep space, or even creating 3D models using a VR sculpting and painting tool or playing video games such as Fruit Ninja in VR mode. The equipment which makes the experiences possible features HP Windows MR headsets, along with 12 freestanding VR stations.

Computer-mediated reality: will more airports follow suit?

Even though people are generally attracted to novelty, there is still the possibility of some customers feeling too self-conscious to put on headsets and truly immerse themselves in the VR experience.  This will change only if more and more locations start offering similar experiences, thus positively influencing the overall perception of the technology.

The air travel industry remains reluctant when it comes to implementing VR, as many companies do not see the benefits, and are afraid to invest large amounts of money without guaranteed profit. However, interactive experiences may become the norm as more and more customers expect new, innovative and creative experiences to be offered by companies. Only time will tell if what is happening at JFK Terminal 4 will soon be the norm everywhere else in the world.

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