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What is a Virtual Tour in 2021? Types, Feature­­s, Development

As a virtual reality company that has produced a variety of virtual tours for customers around the globe, we are ready to answer your questions and help get you started with building your own digital tour
Sep 24, 2021
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Traveling to new countries and locations can be an eye-opening and even life-changing experience, but few of us get to do it as often as we’d like. However, most of us have probably tried virtual tours at one time or another. Such tours are highly prized by both everyday people and companies, but certainly carry the most practical and financial use to businesses and institutions.

Enjoying a digital tour is easy, but developing it is no walk in the park. Thus, anyone who aims to create this sort of solution likely has many questions about the format, features, and other development aspects. As a VR app development company that has produced a variety of virtual tours for customers around the globe, we are ready to answer your questions and help get you started with building your own digital tour.

What exactly does 'virtual tour' mean?

A virtual tour is any digital solution that lets you walk around/explore a location or area without visiting it in person. As for the format of the tour, everyone has a different perception about it, but most stick to the description that virtual tours are presented with lifelike visuals that recreate the physical experience in one way or another.

What are the main advantages of virtual tours?

One of the biggest mistakes that companies in the tourism/hospitality/other industries make in regards to virtual tours is viewing them as an equal or alternative to real physical tours. In reality, digital tours are no replacement for visiting a place in person, but they can still be a valuable resource for any such experience, especially for people who have not made up their minds about visiting in person. Let’s examine some of the key virtual tour benefits:

  • Freedom of movement

    Digital tourists are not constrained by time or physical ability – they can view the locations of a tour at their own pace and get an unprecedented level of detail. For example, they can also “approach” exhibits and objects up close, seeing them with a beautiful level of detail.

  • Greater learning opportunities

    Instead of listening to a tour guide drone on with boring information, digital tourists can instantly choose which information they want to learn, and take their sweet time reading or listening. There is no pressure, expectations, or need to absorb everything on the first try.

  • No crowds or limitations

    Most of the time, a virtual tour will be an independent experience, so you can get away from crowds, noise, and pressure, focusing only on what you see. This experience can happen at any time and anywhere, as long as you have access to the necessary hardware and software.

  • A powerful marketing tour

    Taking the time to create a digital tour is not easy or cheap, but is a great way to break ahead of the pack and beat your competitors in presentation value. You can give new visitors a good reason to visit your locations in person or conduct their business online, as well as boost your online presence.

  • Show more than physically possible

    Not all digital tours are modeled after existing physical locations. Thus, you can create an experience (e.g. underwater, in space, in a fantasy world) that users would not be able to get anywhere else, stimulating their senses, imagination, and state of awe.

Explore the virtual tour created by Program-Ace

What are the most common virtual tour features?

As you consider the design and purpose of your app, you will probably devote much thought to the specific features that you offer users. You are welcome to create your own, or choose from some of the time-tested and highly-popular ones listed below:

  • Rotate and zoom

    While some tours are highly curated and only show you things according to a script, others let you explore at your leisure and zoom in on things that they want to pay special attention to.

  • Click and learn

    Many tours have some way to interact with the surroundings, at least in the selection of objects, buildings, etc. Thus, when something is selected, information about the object is presented, often in the form of text or an audio description.

  • Virtual interactions

    Sometimes, interactions are more elaborate than text showing up on a user’s screen. For example, they might unlock animations showing some processes, or even handle objects – opening doors, picking up and moving items, etc.

  • Teleportation

    Some tours are designed for gradual movement that mimics walking, while others let you jump around different locations at a moment’s notice. In some cases, users open a map and select the point that they want to be teleported to.

  • Virtual tour guide

    To fully mimic a traditional tour experience, some providers add a digital avatar or AI in the tour, guiding visitors and providing information through audio tracks.

What are the Main Types of Virtual Tours?

Most digital tours can be broken down into 3 formats, each with unique strengths and drawbacks.

360 Virtual Tour

360 Virtual Tour

Though a 360-degree tour can be any that allows you to look around at all angles, the traditional definition of this tour is one filmed with a camera. The tour is either created through a sequence of camera shots merged together, or one continuous shot filmed on a 360-degree camera.

Among the benefits of 360 virtual tours are high accessibility and ease of development since they can be deployed on any website and app. Some people choose to create a Unity 360 virtual tour, since this game engine has multiple plugins and extensions that make development easier.

3D Virtual Tour

3D Virtual Tour

As the name suggests, this tour is presented through 3D models. In fact, the whole environment of the tour tends to be modeled in 3D. Such a 3D experience starts when a user opens an application (or it runs automatically), and then they see the 3D location on their screen.

3D tours can be created with beautiful details and a multitude of interactive options. They can be deployed on the web or packaged into apps for mobile, desktop, and other platforms. Amazingly, these tours can even be created for fictional and long-destroyed locations

Virtual Reality Tour

Virtual Reality Tour

3D virtual reality tours are the closest you can get to visiting a place in person without actually being there. They offer an unprecedented level of immersion, realism, and user control. Essentially, it feels like you are standing in this location and taking in the views.

With a headset and proper software featuring the virtual world in 3D, users are transported to the location, where they can look around just by turning their heads, and interact with the environment using the controllers that come with the headset.

Top Examples of Virtual Tours

You might think that virtual tours are only meant for visiting famous landmarks, museums, historical locations, but this could not be farther from the truth. Modern consumers love to have the option to preview places that they frequent regularly, and many specialists in different lines of work have a serious need for virtual visualization and planning.

Virtual tour in real estate

It has become popular to use VR for real estate agents and customers, as exemplified by the agency Squarefoot in Hong Kong, which offers VR house tours for numerous locations.

Virtual tours for retail

Our company developed a VR experience for Magrabi Optical, an eyewear provider based in Dubai. This application lets users virtually visit the store and see its product lineup, which is quite common for solutions of VR in retail.

Virtual tours for restaurants

Digital tours are commonly offered by restaurants, eateries, and pubs, since many of them strive to attract patrons with a snazzy interior and then seal the deal with food. For example, wrestling star Conor McGregor used a drone to film a tour of his pub, The Black Forge Inn.

Virtual tours for education

We have already covered some key features (like interactions and click & learn) that bring benefits of virtual tours in education. For instance, Tairua School in New Zealand is just one of many educational institutions using VR for education. Their experience features Edmund Hillary’s hut in Antarctica and teaches about this harsh environment.

Virtual tours in construction

BIM Visualization App is a solution developed by Program-Ace that features a full-scale and detailed model of a facility planned for construction. It provided construction crews with a valuable reference (including floor plans, walkthrough, and semi-transparent view) helpful to their operations.

Virtual tours in manufacturing

Plants and factories tend to have a complicated layout, making it hard for new workers, visitors, and even managers in general to find certain areas. This problem was addressed by Altran, an engineering firm that created a virtual reality tour of a manufacturing plant and aims to expand its functionality to digital twins.

Virtual museum tours

Virtual museum tours are available in the hundreds, with some operators even making a profit from digital admissions. On the other hand, many of these experiences are free and still amazing, like the 360 tour of the Vatican Museum offered on their website.

Virtual grocery shopping tour

Kroger, a major American grocery provider has created a virtual shopping experience for their customers to find the groceries they need at any time. They have also paired it with a delivery service, giving customers the best of both worlds.

Virtual tours in hospitality

Visiting a hotel or resort virtually can help you get a sense of the facilities available and the quality of accommodation. For example, our team built a VR Hotel application for guests and staff, which allows them to freely explore the various floors and rooms of the building.

Virtual reality travel tours

When you lack the option to travel, you can still do it digitally simply by visiting a website or using an app. If you have a VR headset, you can get even more from the experience. For example, many tourists in Italy are offered VR tours for Oculus that let them explore ancient monuments restored to full glory in 3D.

How to Make a Virtual Tour

Making your own digital tour is a process that ranges in difficulty. After all, it is quite easy to film a video or take some photos and merge them together. However, if you choose to create a 3D experience presented through software, you can expect to spend weeks to months working on it.

Program-Ace designed an interactive virtual tour

Firstly, you will need visual references (photos, videos, sketches, etc.) of the target location and its many areas. With the references, you can get to work creating the 3D environment and all accompanying 3D models. If you plan to make the models detailed and realistic, this stage will probably take up the bulk of the development time. After that, it is just a matter of importing the 3D assets into a development platform, building all your interactive functionality and packaging the app, and conducting plenty of testing.

How much does it cost to create a virtual tour?

If you have made the choice to build a 3D or VR application, you will probably need to employ a team of 3D modelers, developers, and other specialists (like a QA engineer, project manager) for one or several months, as well as purchasing necessary hardware and software. It is not uncommon for such projects to cost tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Virtual tour design services

You don’t necessarily need to add developers and artists to your staff to create a digital tour, since you can easily hire a company that creates these solutions on a regular basis. In many cases, the best virtual tour company will help you save time and money, focus your company’s operations on other matters.

Program-Ace is a qualified development company that provides digital solutions to enterprises in many industries. Our experience in VR development, 3D visualization, and digital transformation allows us to create virtual tours with amazing features and detail, like we did with the aforementioned Magrabi Store, VR Hotel, and BIM application.

All it takes to get started is to tell us what you expect and provide a few references. Your tour will be made according to these exact specifications. When you’re ready, just send us a message.

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