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Virtual Paradise Aims To Lure New Tourists

Molly Solomon
Molly Solomon

Hawai‘i is taking the plunge into virtual reality. State tourism officials are launching a new campaign to promote the islands through this emerging technology. HPR’s Molly Solomon took it for a test drive and has this report.

Virtual reality is one of those things you don’t really get until you try it. You put on heavy goggles and a set of headphones and suddenly you’re transported to a different place. Dario Raciti is the US director of a company called ZeroCode.

Raciti hands me my VR goggles and the next thing I know I’m hang gliding over the Pacific Ocean, with the Hawaiian Islands in the distance.

"If you look below you in a second, you'll see some dolphins passing you," said Raciti.

Molly Solomon
Credit Molly Solomon

Dolphins, a flock of birds, and a catamaran I end up landing on. That’s where a group of smiling young people greet me with a song about the islands as we drift past the Napali Coast. All of that disappears in a couple of minutes. When I take off my headset, I’m back on the ground floor of the convention center.

"That sensation of actually being somewhere else. You were sitting in a conference room here, but in reality you were on a boat, or on a lava field in Kilauea," said Raciti. "Virtual reality is the only media vehicle that allows you to have that experience."

"It's educational, but it's fun, and it will really make you want to come to Hawaii to experience the real thing," said Leslie Dance, the Vice President of marketing for Hawai‘i Tourism Authority. She says a VR experience is the perfect tool to attract new visitors to the islands.

"Just think about how you could depict cuisine, how the hotels could use it," she said. "The possibilities are as endless as the creative ideas we can come up with."

But some say that ease of being transported to another place could actually dissuade travelers from making the trip in real life. Jim Blascovich is a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He’s also the co-director of the school’s Research Center for Virtual Environments.

"It is a conundrum. If you're going to make the virtual experience so good, why should you have to go to Hawaii to experience it," said Blascovich. "How do you entice people to go if in fact they can see everything they want to see virtually?"

A conundrum that Hawai‘i tourism officials hope to balance. And they’re banking on the idea that travelers will still want to experience Hawai‘i the old fashioned way.

Molly Solomon
Molly Solomon joined HPR in May 2012 as an intern for the morning talk show The Conversation. She has since worn a variety of hats around the station, doing everything from board operator to producer.
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