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At LockData, #ThinkForward isn’t just a hashtag, it’s what we encourage our team to do every day. A recent example is when one of team members, Mark Geesey, was inspired by personal experiences to bring virtual tours into the spotlight. In today’s landscape and beyond, virtual tours are on the rise. Read on to get to know more about Mark and discover everything you need to know about virtual tours and optimizing your product for the new normal.

About the Author

Mark is a Software Quality Assurance Engineer and Scrum Master at LockData Technologies. He has worked for various TeleCommunication and Investment Companies before joining the LockData team. He enjoys the Pennsylvania Outdoors, spending time with his wife, and embarrassing his two teenage kids in public as often as possible.

Discovering Virtual Tours

When I first started working with LockData I was well aware of all of the pitfalls of  working at a tech company. It wasn’t the deadlines, the enterprise software, or even the excessive coffee drinking to come that worried me. What was my fear now that I worked at a tech company? It was taking my work home with me, by becoming the resident expert in all things technology with a clientele who fondly refer to me as “Dad”.  Every broken cell phone, password problem, and error message now found its way directly to me.

It wasn’t long before my wife Kerri, an elementary school teacher, decided that I would be the perfect “go-to” for setting up a virtual museum tour for her class. The 3rd grade’s annual “Titanic Day” was approaching and she wanted to bump things up a notch. What better way than a live tour of the ship! She contacted the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and pitched the idea to staff. They loved the idea and wanted to move forward with it! I was about to get a lesson in virtual tourism, but not the one I expected.

Digging Deeper

I immediately started my research. How do you set up a virtual tour? What equipment is involved? How much would this cost? After a few days I was ready and waiting to dispel all of my new found virtual tour wisdom. 

“Does Google Meet have a mobile app?” she asked. 
“It does.” I replied.
She thought for a moment: “Any reason that wouldn’t work?”
“Well no, make sure the museum has WiFi throughout the building and…” before I finished she shot back: “I’ll check with their tech guy – thanks!”  and quickly changed the subject.

That was it. I heard nothing for weeks other than a few reports of a trial run to find wifi dead spots in the museum. Where were the hi def cameras? Didn’t we need a few weeks to get familiar with a new virtual tour platform? Is there an audio/video guy? Surely we need an audio/video guy!

Simple Solutions

As it turns out, the museums staff only required 4 simple things to share their experience:

  1. A tablet with a camera as a phone proved too small.
  2. Meeting software with a mobile app.
  3. Verified wifi coverage throughout the building.
  4. A flashlight to highlight fine details on artifacts.

That’s it. If the above list seems a bit of a letdown, or if like me you were sure there was an A/V guy somewhere, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. So what can you actually do with the equipment that many can find simply by glancing around the room? 

Since that original experiment, the Titanic Museum has given tours for attendees throughout the United States and around the world. Some of the “virtual attendees” made trips to the museum in person and the tour has continued to grow. They’re now offering additional materials to give  their attendees a fuller virtual tour experience. 

For those still on the fence as to whether or not a virtual tour is realistic for your venue just remember, The Titanic Museum bills itself as “The World’s Largest Museum Attraction” and if they can find success, so can you!

Virtual Tours on the Rise

In recent years The Titanic Museum is not the only one to find their footing in the virtual tour space. Venues and attractions are seeing the possibilities and seizing them. Why wouldn’t they? The statistics are clear, virtual tours are on the rise and here to stay.

A study by SeekBeak reveals that those who viewed a virtual tour online were twice as likely to book a reservation, with that number being even higher among the 18-34 crowd. The same study cites a Google finding that “Virtual Tours Help Double Interest In Business”. Perhaps the most eye-opening thing is that these statistics were gathered before the pandemic and are certainly even more relevant now as we navigate the challenges of social distancing.

Trending Transformations

What’s more, virtual tours are already starting to dominate how whole industries are marketing themselves. Let’s look at the Real Estate Industry. In an article titled: Virtual, robot and solo home touring soar as social distancing hits the housing market amid coronavirus fear, CNBC reports that Zillow, the home listing site, saw a 191% jump in the amount of 3D home tours that were created in just one week! In hospitality, Skift reports that hotels are using virtual tours as a sales tool during social distancing and on the venue and attractions front, one need only look at the top articles on WhereTraveler.com to see the shift to virtual tour products from top brands is the current trend.

Whether conducting a business transaction or touring a historic museum, it is clear that offering customers the option to social distance will only grow in demand. With this trend in mind, it’s clear that  the virtual tour could very well take its place as a top contender for digital distribution in the current landscape as well in the post COVID-19 world.

Virtual Tours Post COVID-19

While no one knows what the future holds as we emerge from these unprecedented times, there are a few things we can be certain about:

  • The quickening of virtual tour adoption – while we couldn’t say this 10 or even 5 years ago, the eco-system is already in place for a sizable and rather immediate shift. Tablets, VR Headsets, and high speed internet are all becoming commonplace for most of your customers.
  • Virtual and Online  Tourism Creation Platforms will continue to grow.  We’ve already seen an explosion in the number of options now available to help assist in the process of creating a virtual experience for your attendees.  Do more, faster, with an ever increasing array of tools.
  • An increasing amount of tourism dollars will be generated or captured by virtual and online offerings. Many of the dollars allocated for things such as school field trips have not gone away. However, they face the new problem of how to spend those dollars in a world of limited travel and social distancing.

Putting it All Together

If putting together an online experience for your audience is so easy and profitable why wouldn’t a venue use them to increase attendance? In a word, “logistics”. Logistics is defined as “ the detailed coordination of a complex operation involving many people, facilities or supplies.” An accurate description of putting together all the pieces of a virtual tour if there ever was one.

Yes, we have the tour creation itself but other variables are involved. Website integration, marketing strategies, and emerging technologies are just a few things you’ll need to consider as adjuncts to a virtual tour setup.

In addition someone will need to track who’s attending, who has paid, and various other coordination efforts involved in your group event and recent events have only amplified these challenges. All the things that could be worked out in person at some point in a group venture are now forced into a decentralized effort. One attendee isn’t on your Facebook page as she avoids social media. Another attendee can’t PayPal the group organizer the tour fee as he only uses Venmo and on and on. It’s a new normal that is testing us all.

The New Normal

So which is it? Is a virtual tour simple to start and scale or is it complicated and time consuming? The answer is both. The tools are the same but the environment has changed. The fact of the matter is “complicated and time consuming” don’t come into play when you have several years to refine your game, make mistakes, adjust. That’s the luxury we had in our first example. I’d like to say that is a luxury that we still enjoy today but unfortunately time may not be on our side. I know with the right approach, technology most certainly is.

The Team at LockData and Group Tools have a few ideas to help you navigate this new landscape. Interested? Let us help you #ThinkForward and #GroupForward into the new and now of being a virtual venue.

Trusted Technology Partners

LockData

LockData’s passion is building innovative customer experiences through software and technology. With a leadership team that has over 40 years of combined experience running group sales companies and building custom software solutions for those businesses, Lockdata is perfectly positioned to handle the logistics of helping you navigate the world of virtual tours.

  • Integrate your virtual tour with your existing website, CMS, or web application.
  • Take customer engagement to the next level with custom User Interface Design and User Experience Strategies.
  • SEO, social media, and content creation strategies to maximize market reach.
GroupTools

Additionally, GroupTools, a product of Lockdata Technologies can help you manage your virtual events ease. GroupTools is an all-in-one solution for group leaders, suppliers and attendees. The platform offers an easy way to plan, manage and attend group events while enhancing group experiences and has the ideal feature set for organizing your virtual tours and with no lengthy set up process, GroupTools is ready to go when you are.

  • Easily create fully custom events that you can directly sell to your customers or give to a group leader to promote.
  • Simple promotion options through direct invitations and social sharing.
  • Streamlined payment collection allows you or your group leader to accept secure, online event payments immediately.

Getting Started is simple. To optimize your website, other online offerings, and for guidance on setting up your virtual tours, contact the LockData team today. If you have your virtual tour products set up, but are in need of a solution to promote, manage, and get paid for your virtual tours, login or register with GroupTools to get started.

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