It’s the traveller’s curse: You’ve travelled somewhere far from home, and you’re ready to experience all it has to offer. But in this unfamiliar town, street signs are unfamiliar, the waiter at the local restaurant doesn’t understand your order, and you have no idea where you should start exploring or how to get there.
Luckily, your smartphone knows how to do all that for you.
In a recent financial post article Kenneth Wong - head of product marketing at the Hong Kong Tourism Board outlines the success of their new Augmented Reality mobile app. Wong suggests “Hong Kong is a compact city with a lot of offerings, so the app helps you see interesting shops and attractions easily, and it helps you plan your trip”. Its easy to imagine how tourists might have a tough time finding those hidden gems scattered across the city. So far the app has seen thousands of downloads, and features 100 attractions, 5000 retail outlets, 2000 dining locations, as well as city events.
Its no wonder that that traditional tourism hubs such as Lonely Planet, and Trip Advisor are on board with AR; both have extended their app offerings to include augmented reality. In an article with the guardian Jeremy Kreitler, vice president of mobile technology points out that "You are most information-starved when you are in a completely new environment".
As AR helps more travellers get around, it’s also presenting a huge opportunity to boost the entertainment value of travel attractions. The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto has realized this with their exhibition - Ultimate Dinosaurs: Giants from Gondwana. Patrons of the museum can see some dinosaurs “in the flesh” when they view their skeletons through a museum supplied iPad. As Tracy Ruddell, vice president of marketing at the museum explains: AR features are not about doing something “because it’s gimmicky,” but achieving the right combination of education and entertainment.
In addition to the traditional tourism channels, AR is also fueling growth in newer areas. In particular, the geocaching is gaining steam. Recent figures suggest that there are as many as 5 million geocahers world wide, accessing as many as two million sites across 125 countries. The economic benefits have become apparent. In Nevada for instance (Las Vegas alone contains 1500 sites), when the Nevada Department of Transportation tried to ban the practice, the decision was promptly reversed after local hospitality industry demonstrated the significant economic impact the decision would have.