Airbnb thinks virtual reality could one day help you plan, and survive, your vacation.
As tacky as that sounds, this could actually be a really good use of VR.
Airbnb is making changes. Airbnb’s CEO, Brian Chesky, told Mashable that the new Airbnb hopes to immerse its guests — to connect them not just with accommodations, but with destinations and experiences.
Last November the rental company launched its Trips feature, allowing travelers to organize their vacations in addition to renting rooms, via the Airbnb app. The update allowed users to book restaurants, find experiences and events in nearby communities, and read reviews.
The next step in a vacation-rental app’s quest to become your go-to travel-booking company: integrating augmented and virtual reality into your travel experience.
Airbnb claims it will soon provide 3D scans of rental options to give prospective renters a better sense of the space they’re renting. Further down the line, the company predicts, it may provide a virtual reality platform to allow travelers to explore potential destinations and plan vacations remotely.
During your vacation, Airbnb hopes augmented reality can make a real-time translation tool — you could open the app and see labels on the objects around you. Or, it could help you pull up information and history about the objects and locations around you — perhaps you could point your camera at a building and get its name (in the local language), history, and reviews floating in the air.
But will Airbnb follow through on these promises?
It’s unclear. The company’s announcement is full of hopeful, broad sentiments: Phrases like “experimenting with,” “looking at ways to,” and “building tools for” give Airbnb a lot of wiggle room. The press release contains no concrete proposals, plans, or (most importantly) projected release dates.
Augmented reality apps and VR platforms are often ambitious, and begin with lofty goals: to change the way we people live their lives or interact with devices. When Facebook launched its social VR platform, Spaces, this past April, Rachel Franklin, its head of social VR, claimed that the product would “transform the way people around the world stay connected with their communities and those closest to them.” So far, however, reviewers have emerged from the platform with skepticism, and the company still struggles to sell enough Oculus headsets to make the product a viral success.
This isn’t to say that Airbnb’s VR ambitions are necessarily destined for the same fate. Unlike the broad goal of “socializing” which new generations constantly reinterpret and redefine across platforms, all travelers can point to concrete shared grievances (such as language barriers, getting lost, trouble finding a trustworthy host) which AR and VR could certainly help to solve. The question of whether Airbnb’s platform will be effective at doing this — and whether the solution will be more innovative than kitschy — is one we can’t answer until we have more information.
But while it’s a bit early to celebrate Airbnb as an innovator in VR and AR, as the platforms struggle to find a foothold in the gaming and social markets, it’s encouraging to see companies seeing promise in the medium as they look to expand their audience and influence.