What Is AR, and How Can Hotel and Destination Marketers Use It?

There’s been lots of chatter in marketing and tech circles about augmented reality (AR) and its potential to transform how we interact with the world around us. The conversation got much louder after Apple’s high-profile rollout of the iPhone 8 and iPhone X in September. That the trendsetting tech giant is investing so heavily in this fast-evolving technology has industry watchers dubbing the announcement a game changer for AR.

Unquestionably there’s an opportunity for the technology to make a big impact. Goldman Sachs predicts that the AR/VR headset market alone will grow as large as $100 billion by 2025. The firm sees AR and VR as having the potential not just to become more popular across a wide range of industries and applications, but “to become a generic computing platform,” as ubiquitous as Windows. With the Apple announcement moving AR and VR closer to that reality, marketers need to fully embrace augmented reality—and fast.

But many destinations and hotel marketers may be asking themselves, “How can I leverage AR?” or even, “What the heck is AR?”

Below I offer background information and tips on how travel and hospitality marketers can leverage its amazing capabilities.

What’s AR?

Augmented reality adds a layer of computer-generated images, animation, text, or other elements onto the real world in real-time as the user is experiencing it. Unlike the totally immersive experience of virtual reality, AR embellishes the surroundings you’re experiencing and adds something entertaining, informative, or just plain silly on top of it.


Think Snapchat’s filters that give users a unicorn horn, dog ears, or any number of goofy twists; or the massively popular Pokemon Go game that challenges players to find pocket monsters in city streets, stores, and more. Beyond fun, AR also promises a wide range of more practical uses. Imagine homeowners using AR glasses to evaluate different interior layouts, GPS navigation tools that overlay map directions on top of actual images of the road, and more.

Why should hotel and destination marketers care?

AR offers hotel and destination marketers boundless potential to engage guests and drive bookings and physical visits. Every traveler keeps their phone at the ready when visiting a new destination, and AR provides all-new ways for them to use that device to engage with a place. DMOs and hotel marketers who leverage these opportunities will more deeply connect with visitors and stand to reap a wide range of benefits, from deeper engagement to wider social media impact.

Every traveler keeps their phone at the ready when visiting a new destination, and AR provides all-new ways for them to use that device to engage with a place.

How Can Hotel and Destination Marketers Leverage AR?

There are numerous ways destination and hotel marketers can take advantage of AR.

  • Drive bookings. To entice a potential customer to visit, marketers can turn ads into targeted AR experiences. For example, a tropical destination can be promoted by encouraging viewers to use a “beach filter” that gives them sunglasses or adds a lounge chair and seagulls to their cubicle.
  • Enhance the stay. When at the property or destination itself, visitors can add a filter to photos they take, adding funny or shareable elements (and branding for the destination). Informational filters can help visitors discover available services, learn more about a property’s history, or find tourist spots—all while also providing marketers with more data about customers’ interests and preferences.
  • Gamification. Adding digital game elements like “points” or “badges” that can be earned through actions taken in the real world encourages visitors to experience more of the hotel or destination and learn more about an area’s history and wildlife. For example, visitors can earn badges or special offers as they visit different attractions, or a DMO can create educational games to entertain children on long drives.
  • Make life easier. DMOs could use AR to support visitors in their native languages, provide maps and guides for specific niche audiences, offer additional historical or cultural context to an experience, or show how their destinations would appear in a different season.
  • Increase sharing. The above ideas can be easily turned into creative social media marketing assets for Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, which encourages friends and followers to have their own augmented experience at your hotel or destination.

Any marketer feeling overwhelmed by the possibilities of AR should consider partnering with a firm that specializes in it. The technology is evolving and expanding quickly, and is best deployed under the guidance of those with the deepest experience in the sector.

Now is the time

“This is an incredible area for us to advance in,” Apple’s SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller said about AR at the keynote—and destination and hotel marketers would be wise to share his sentiments. Augmented reality presents huge possibilities for marketers looking to attract visitors to their hotels and destinations, enhance their experiences while there, and entice them to tell others and return again themselves.

Learn more about how YouVisit drives results for hoteliers here.

Alex Daniel is a travel writer and content strategist living in Brooklyn.