Carnival Sets Sail With Virtual Reality Vacations

February 19, 2016, 8:57 PM UTC

Carnival Corp. (CCL) hopes virtual reality will give land lovers a better sampling of what vacationing aboard one of its cruise lines is actually like. The world’s largest cruise line has partnered with AT&T on a new marketing promotion that is using Samsung Electronics’ ( SSNLF) Gear VR in 133 AT&T stores across 37 states to offer 360-degree vacation experiences to customers.

“Because such a small percentage of North Americans have actually been on a cruise vacation, and the only real way to experience a cruise is to actually step on board a ship, we’re using virtual reality to transport people to a virtual cruise environment where they can get a taste of the full experience – from the open sea, to the entertainment and dining, to the amazing shore excursion options around the world – which will encourage more people to consider cruises when planning their next vacation,” says Ken Jones, vice president of corporate marketing at Carnival.

Jones says once people go on a vacation, they often love it and not only go again, but tell their friends and family about it. So Carnival is focused on how to convince people to give cruising a shot.

Consumers can also enter a sweepstakes to win one of 10 seven-day cruises on Carnival Corp.’s Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, and Carnival Cruise Line brands by checking the virtual reality experience and signing up via an in-store tablet or by visiting through March 11.

“One of the barriers to getting folks on cruises are common misconceptions about cruises, and if we’re able to expose more and more consumers to what our ships and the experiences are actually like, we hope to be able to increase the demand for cruising overall,” Jones says. “Cruising has grown faster than land-based vacations over the past decade or so, and we think technology can help accelerate that trend as we help people envision themselves in an amazing cruise environment.”

This isn’t the first time Carnival has explored 360-degree video. The company used the technology at a Carnival Vista preview event, offering media and consumers a preview of the new ship well before its April 2016 launch. The company’s Cunard Line has also used 360-degree video content in conjunction with the New York Stock Exchange ringing the bell for its 175th anniversary.

“As with many other products we’re exploring, how much we adopt VR in our sales process will depend on how much consumers adopt it, but the future is looking up as the headsets and content are already starting to proliferate,” Jones says. “There is no substitute for actually being onboard one of our ships and out on the open sea, but VR is just about as close as you can get.”

The cruise industry has been adding new Internet options for consumers and designing its latest ships with video games and cutting-edge technology to attract a younger demographic. Virtual reality connects directly with this audience, which tends to be early adopters.

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“We want to get to early adopters, and we like the idea of using virtual reality to reach consumers as it goes more mainstream,” Jones says. “We also envision VR being helpful to travel agents, so they have all the tools at their disposal to see new features and experience new ships virtually, which can help sell our cruise vacations. And as additional types of technology continue to evolve, we will continue to look for ways to incorporate it.”

Over the past decade, the $30 billion cruise ship industry has grown younger, according to Sharon Zackfia, a partner at William Blair and Company. She says the average age on a Carnival Cruise Line or Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ship is approximately 40 years old.

Zackfia says Carnival Corp. accounts for half of the cruise industry’s annual revenues.

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