HotelsAre virtual tours a new way to sell hotels? We join two inspections to see what the fuss is about.

Hotels bring virtual tours to the forefront

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Can virtual tours be the new way to inspect and sell hotels?
Can virtual tours be the new way to inspect and sell hotels? Photo Credit: Visual Generation/Getty Images

With borders locked and international travel not possible, how do hotels give travel and meetings industry players a sample of their offerings? As in most things these days – virtually!

A series of recent virtual site inspections made it possible for me to check out several hotels in Asia and practised social distancing at the same time – all from the comfort of my home.

One section of the Jogakbo restaurant in Andaz Seoul Gangnam.
One section of the Jogakbo restaurant in Andaz Seoul Gangnam.

Case study 1

Andaz Seoul Gangnam, a five-star hotel which opened a year ago in the South Korean capital, recently joined hands with the Korean Tourism Organization Singapore office to host a virtual inspection tour of its premises as well as safety measures.

The virtual tour was conducted on YouTube Live, while a live text chat option was provided for interaction. Viewers were welcomed by the hotel's general manager Juan Mercadante and director of sales Kim Seung Mo, who swiftly whisked us off from outside the hotel to kick off the virtual tour.

At the lobby, we were taken through all the Covid-19 scans and checks, which seem to be standard protocols across most parts of Asia. As the hotel is part of the Hyatt group, one can pre-check-in through the Hyatt app or do it the traditional way.

An almost seamless journey awaited us as we were shown the lobby, spa, pool and gym and F&B options like Jogakbo, which interprets Korean streetside dining across five different sections that flow into adjacent spaces. We were also given a tour of the actual event spaces available, which are designed with an open pillarless concept.

The three accommodation categories at this 241-room property offer stylish modern interior adaptations of traditional concepts. The lights and fixtures in the rooms can be voice-controlled (in Korean/English). The penthouse suites were left to the last, and the stunning rooms also worked as event spaces.

Shangri-La Hotel, Kuala Lumpur's hybrid event saw a mix of in-person and virtual attendees.
Shangri-La Hotel, Kuala Lumpur's hybrid event saw a mix of in-person and virtual attendees.

Case study 2

As part of the Malaysian Business Events Week 2020, Shangri-La Hotel, Kuala Lumpur recently organised a hybrid event.

A by-invite session saw 93 corporate sales and events and MICE professionals physical attending the tour in person, while the virtual attendee list comprised 53 hotel clients and partners as well as Shangri-La group staff across Malaysia and its global office.

The 'phygital' session gave participants a look at how each Shangri-La and its sister brands’ properties in Malaysia have implemented the SOPs in place as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Attendees were taken on an experiential journey that included a mixology challenge, learning how to organise a hybrid event, and the use of an app for a teambuilding exercise and beyond the boardroom programme. All this while observing all the SOPs.

The Shangri-La group team would then conduct follow-ups with videos/decks to both physical and virtual participants.

What the virtual participants of the Andaz Seoul Gangnam site inspection experienced in real time.
What the virtual participants of the Andaz Seoul Gangnam site inspection experienced in real time.

Verdict

Virtual inspections might be more time- and cost-effective for travel agents as they can quickly tour the hotel and its offerings remotely without having to travel to the destination. It will also help clients and the media as not everyone would have the time or opportunity to do so, if it was a physical inspection.

That said, virtual inspections have their drawbacks though. For Andaz Seoul Gangnam, for instance, I was not able to get a full sense of where the hotel was sited within its locality. While the views were touted, all that virtual participants could see was the view from within the middle of the space looking through the windows. It felt a bit claustrophobic and the sense of the space, especially for the event spaces, was simply not there.

Virtual inspections can never replicate the experience of being physically present in a space, using all your senses.

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