Strap on your headset. Be there. Wake up in that dream holiday home, look around the place as if you were there. Experience walking out into the neighbourhood, see what the corner shop looks like, feel the atmosphere of the streets, interact with the locals. Be there before you decide to go there.
What is it?
In this scenario we explored the concept of a virtual reality (VR) environment to help people have better holidays.
A seamless mix of Street View tourism and the kind of 3D/360˚ virtual tours popular in real estate, the product explored here helps people decide if a destination city or a room that someone is letting will meet their needs.
It helps people answer questions such as “will I feel safe in this area?”, “will I enjoy my holiday here?”, and “will my holiday companions and I be able to get into, or move around in the property in a wheelchair?”. It does this by allowing them to take a virtual tour both around an area and inside the properties that are available to let.
As people look around the area in the VR environment they can see tourist spots, restaurants, sports activities and entertainment opportunities that suit their interests. They can even see avatars representing the type of people who live in the area walking around and enjoying their lives. Information on crime or other risks in the area is also available.
They can see properties marked as being available for let and which online platforms they are available through. People can take a virtual tour of properties to see if they meet their needs. They can see if they have enough space for themselves and their friends, or if there is good access for luggage, child buggies or wheelchairs.
How does it work? How is it related to portability?
In this scenario, the core data powering Holo-day are photographs, layouts or 360˚ recordings of properties which Holo-day showcases.
We imagined that Holo-day was not a feature of a single accommodation platform but a separate service that relied on data portability to access and use data about the properties themselves – such as their exact location. The simulation can mesh the view from inside with the exploration of the neighbourhood and the reputation of the host based on letting history.
Holo-day is given permission to access data about the preferences of potential groups of guests from their peer-to-peer accommodation platform accounts. These preferences might be explicitly ported from their letting history on several accommodation platforms by one or more guests, or derived from their behaviour on other services. Holo-day could also request access to data from its users’ bank, for example, providing data about their spending habits to help highlight activities and retailers they might be interested in seeing through Holo-day.
In addition to data used through a portability framework, Holo-day will benefit from a wealth of open data about the areas it covers: data about maps, addresses, and points of interest; data about buildings and transport; demographic data to better represent the local feel of the area; and data about local entertainment and attractions. As a third party working across peer-to-peer accommodation platforms, it also makes use of open data about the platforms and their products, including pricing and T&Cs.
In order for Holo-day and similar services to work at scale, a cross-sector working group may be needed to develop standards for shared and open data that could then be applied globally.
National data regulators and policymakers will make required data such as geospatial, transport and demographic data available. They will also consider – from a regulatory perspective – what data should be openly available or kept private in their domains.
There are different business models for Holo-day that could emerge. A community model, perhaps built around existing communities like OpenStreetMap or Second Life, is one option. Holo-day could also be built by the private sector: it is easy to imagine how this could be an expansion of an existing service like Google’s StreetView, but the possibility that the short-term letting platforms might offer the service themselves is equally viable. Finally, in some countries or cities, the public sector might offer the service, whether to show their cities in the way they want, or because the market does not provide the service.
Benefits and risks
By offering a high-fidelity preview of the properties and their surroundings, Holo-day aims to create a ‘no surprise’ service which should result in more renters going on holidays that meet their needs and expectations, in turn creating a higher level of customer satisfaction for the letters and platforms.
The ability to virtually visit properties can also improve the experience – and the ability to travel comfortably and safely – for people with accessibility needs.
Finally, by meshing the appeal of properties and the local area together, such a service creates new avenues for interaction between platforms and the localities they operate in. This and other factors could lead to greater trust in the peer-to-peer accommodation sector, leading to more use and growth.
There are some downsides to consider.
Could there be a rise in virtual tourism with people not taking holidays in real-life but instead only taking Holo-days? Could Holo-day become a vector for disaster tourism, with people taking Holo-days in disaster zones? Would the high-fidelity view of properties and their exact locations increase the risk of burglary, stalking or espionage? Less serious, but rather creepily, people might create games that they played in the Holo-day version of other people’s houses.
There may be a relative lack of usable data (or no data at all) for some areas, leading to people only going on holiday to places with high-fidelity Holo-days. This would lead to an increase in logistical pressure on popular spots, while places without the capacity to gather such detailed data could suffer from a drop in visits. Or would visitors be more attracted to areas that they couldn’t visit through virtual reality?
The risk of data manipulation is worth exploring too. What if a host or letter shared false information about a property? How acceptable would it be to ‘airbrush’ the imperfections of a given property? And what if a local authority decided to publish fake data to increase tourism?
How far in the future could this be?
This is technically feasible and seems fairly near-term. We suspect that some peer-to-peer accommodation platforms and technology companies will already be prototyping such ideas using the data they already hold.