Hang gliding in Malibu. Touring a Beverly Hills mansion. The Chinese will be able to experience it all before visiting
On the 70th floor of the U.S. Bank building in downtown Los Angeles, a virtual reality camera crew took turns riding the Skyslide, the high-altitude tourist attraction that opened last year atop the city’s tallest building. The several-second trip allows visitors to careen down a glass chute that is suspended a vertiginous 1,000 feet from the ground.
With a compact VR rig in hand, the crew shot several trips down the slide, adjusting the settings on the eight-camera Nokia OZO to capture the right balance of morning light and adrenaline rush. The primary audience for this 3-D and 360-degree experience will be VR users in China, who producers hope will be intrigued enough to put down their headsets and hop on a plane to experience L.A. for real.
As the VR industry looks to stoke user adoption, tourism has become a fertile field for content creators in Southern California and beyond. L.A. remains the top U.S. destination for Chinese tourists, and VR is becoming an important marketing tool to reach Chinese consumers looking to travel.
The goal is to take travel marketing “out of a flat experience toward something more immersive,” said Azel James, the head of production at FansTang, a boutique Chinese digital media company that specializes in celebrity and sports content. The Shanghai-based company films much of its VR content, including the recent Skyslide shoot, in the L.A. area.
FansTang has captured VR footage of several local attractions and landmarks, including hang gliding off the Malibu coast and touring Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. It has about 35 full-time staff members, with 15 in L.A., in addition to a local freelance crew of about 30.
Chinese consumers will be able to experience the slide footage and other clips that FansTang is producing through VR glasses made by Santa Clara, Calif.-based VR firm Immerex. The headsets will be sold later this year.
The VR experience isn’t intended to replace tourism but to offer a next-best experience that is designed to intrigue viewers with scenes that range from five to 20 minutes in length.
VR-enabled traveling “can make you feel present in a way that mere photography can't,” said Forest Key, the head of VR start-up Pixvana. “However, there’s still a chicken-and-egg problem — very few people have the headsets.”