Marnix van Gisbergen: Digitale media and VR in Travel

Marnix van Gisbergen
19 December 2018

About Marnix van Gisbergen
Marnix van Gisbergen, professor at Breda University of Applied Sciences, where he works within the research domain ‘Contextual Connected Media’ carries out research into digital media, with a focus on virtual reality (VR). He uses media context as the starting point to measure, research and understand the functionality and role of VR. He wants to create a framework to help organisations develop VR concepts and media strategies that not only reach but also appeal to the audience – which may or may not use the various media platforms.

A conversation about researching digital media and VR in travel with Marnix van Gisbergen, professor of digital media concepts at Breda University of Applied Sciences

If we ask you about future developments of digital media, especially with regard to VR, what do you think this future will look like?
“The number of digital media is ever increasing, that is the first thing I think of when it comes to the development of digital media. I often start lectures to organisations and students with the question: “Can you name a medium that has disappeared in the past 200 years?” It is surprisingly hard to give examples. On the other hand, it is very easy to name new media; every year, there is always a specific medium (type) that gets lots of attention, from big data driven media to wearables and virtual reality, or from augmented reality (AR) to artificial intelligence voice-controlled media.

But when to use which medium? It gets harder for businesses to decide, mostly because most companies can’t do everything. And they simply don’t have the budget to do that either. More and more organisations set up a digital media strategy department. This is often a multidisciplinary division, combining media, technology and consumer insight. It’s not easy, but businesses need to think of and develop ideas for new media and technologies that come onto the market. In the travel industry, a lot of businesses are wondering whether they should invest in VR or AR. This is a relevant question, but it is easier to start with the ‘why’ question and whether these media actually add something to the media that you as an organisation are already using.

Do you want to offer travellers a simulated (interactive) experience or not? In the case of VR, it will mostly be about offering an experience. If the actual environment or context has to be visible or is an important aspect of the experience, you should go for AR. In addition, it is important to stop viewing media as separate entities. We sometimes notice that organisations want to invest all their time and money in VR, but that’s not always necessary. “Travellers will continue to use the website and social media.”

How do you as a professor collaborate with organisations to support them in the development of media strategies and VR?
“Almost all of our research is a collaboration between knowledge institutions, organisations and students. This varies from large project with international consortia, sometimes with the help of grants. We also have projects that are sponsored by business, and graduation research projects. That is what makes working at an international university of applied sciences like the one in Breda so much fun.

At our professorship and games and media domains, we strongly believe that research and creation go hand in hand. Don’t research something sequentially, by first making something and then testing it, but deliver concepts and working prototypes simultaneously. We share the insights from our research with our partners. This output can vary from articles to consultancy, workshops, jams and hackathons. The commercial development is often done in collaboration with our business holding and/or businesses from our network.

For instance, we developed VR concepts and products in the field of entertainment (films and games) but also in the field of branding, health, travel, retail and culture. All these concepts are linked to research, varying from effective research to design optimisation or strategy development. We work for all types of target groups and are active in all phases of a project. The starting point is always how it can be linked to our knowledge domain of entertainment. it is all about interaction. On the one hand, we bring our knowledge of entertainment to the travel branch, while on the other hand, we can implement what we learn from them in the entertainment sector.”

What recent research results can be relevant for Future Proof Travel organisations?
“Firstly, research shows that you don’t have to be afraid of implementing new media. Research has never shown that a VR or AR experience devalues a ‘real-life’ experience. A VR museum does not replace a visit to a real museum, or a visit to a country, region or area. It tends to be the other way around, and can confirm someone’s intention to visit a location. However, it strongly depends on how VR or AR is used.

It is important to determine the purpose of VR. If you want to boost visitor numbers, VR has to be designed and used differently than when it is used to simulate the experience during or after a visit. We still see that VR triggers more ‘engaging’ experiences than traditional media, but it is content-dependent. If VR includes 360-degree images, we now know it is important to take the five Ps into account (Presence, Perspective, Point of View, Proximity and Place). Unfortunately, it is very hard to explain that in a 2D blog. We also see that a VR experience does not always have to be realistic. And surprisingly, creating a beautiful world doesn’t always require a big budget. Sometimes, and especially when intense experiences are concerned, such as (fear of) heights, or impulsive behaviour, such as avoiding dangerous situations, a simple VR world suffices.

On the other hand, research shows that people still find it unpleasant to wear VR glasses or headsets (for a longer period of time). And the market for VR is still quite small. However, things are changing rapidly and we see more and more integration of VR media (e.g. AR and VR headsets). In addition, we are also constantly seeing new developments in the field of AI-controlled realistic digital humans. We hope to show more of that next year.”