Of all new technology, perhaps augmented reality has the most brilliantly futuristic ring to it. Augmented reality (AR) works in two ways, based either on geolocation – using GPS, compass and other sensors in a mobile device – or vision – in which sensors track the visual features of real world objects.

As a consumer product, the uses of augmented reality are still being hashed out. But, in the travel sector, its application is catching on in a number of ways, especially as mobile is by far the most popular way for people to interact with AR.



The marriage of augmented reality and travel (Photo courtesy of Etpis.com)


Augmented reality city tours

As a means of highlighting interesting features or bringing history to life, augmented reality has great potential.

In Seville, a company called Past View has created an augmented reality walking tour. Tourists put on video-glasses and earphones, which are connected to their iPhone, to see the city’s history re-enacted before their eyes.



In 2010, the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI) launched its free 3D architecture app, Urban Augmented Reality, allowing users to see what was in a location in the past as well as what is planned for it in the future.




In Paris, visitors can download the Then and Now app for iOS and Android, allowing them to see historical images layered onto physical surroundings. Users can travel back in time and view more than 2,000 places of interest as they were 100 years ago.

For travel agents, offering such technology means engaging with tourists who might not otherwise have been interested in a guided tour. Younger visitors in particular, for whom a historical tour is still too reminiscent of school, are more likely to be beguiled by AR. Rather than a replacement of real-person guides, AR should be marketed as an additional option, tempting a new crowd.


Gamification of travel

Meanwhile, for those who find merely being in a new place a bit lacking, gamification is the thing… turning travel into one big game. In the UK, The Game sends tourists on a treasure hunt, uncovering facts about a city. There is potential within this to guide players to specific places of interest, or for travel businesses to sponsor mentions within a game – games are a new platform on which to make their products visible.


Augmented reality for practical information

It’s not all fun and games in the world of augmented reality. Practical applications of the technology fit well with the travel industry, as it can deliver the vast quantities of location-based information visitors seek.

Yelp produced what was probably the first augmented reality app for iPhone, offering business information as an overlay to the real world. Similarly, Mtrip.com offers real-time directions; distances; prices and traveller ratings for museums, monuments, restaurants, hotels and cafés, in a traveller’s destination.

Etpis.com is an augmented reality guide for cities across the globe, including Paris, London, Rome, Venice, Florence, and Amsterdam. The app includes practical information such as interactive maps, attractions, travel information, common phrases, and tour guides.

This accessible information makes travel less intimidating and a new breed of traveler is emerging, happy to visit more out-of-the-way spots. There will be an ever-increasing need for small, niche businesses, as AR opens up every corner of a destination to the interested traveler.


Wiki AR

Wikitude got in early to augmented reality for smartphones, launching the Wikitude AR Travel Guide in 2008. Content is constantly being added and the app offers everything from virtual tours to peer reviews, maps and local tweets. Content is user-generated and anyone can build an app with the Wikitude suite of developer tools, giving travel agents one more way to sell interesting local offers.

As with other forms of collaborative travel, an agent’s role may change as travelers engage with social AR to make decisions, but as the voice of authority, they will remain vital.


Google Glass – the next level?

The much-hyped Google Glass puts information directly in front of a user’s eyes. The technology allows wearers to browse the web, send messages, use GPS, and stream pictures and videos directly to friends. It’s likely to be a while until the headsets become common gadgets. But, if they do, this type of technology could have an impact on the travel industry. Travellers could come to expect destination guides and flight-search information delivered in this way and, for the agents or travel businesses, there will be potential to offer discounts and up-sell products.


AR travel shopping

An imitation of “virtual supermarkets” in Asia, Heinemann Duty Free at Frankfurt Airport has unveiled a QR code wall from which passengers will be able to buy Duty Free goods simply by pointing their smartphones at a billboard featuring virtual products.


The future of augmented reality

If augmented reality continues to grow in popularity, the travel industry is likely to be at the forefront of its applications. As a marketing, selling, or information-providing tool, AR fits with the travel industry arguably more than any other. But to what extent will consumers adopt AR? Will tools like Google Glass ever become mainstream and, if so, what could be done with them?


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