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Time was that, for most people, booking a holiday meant taking a trip to a travel agent. Then along came the www to change all that. And yet the latest tech innovation to hit the travel sector - virtual reality - brings with it the power to get travel-lovers away from their web browsers and back in to the high street travel agent. 

Where do you go for the best travel advice?

If you keep up to speed with the travel news, you may have noticed that travel agents have had a hard time of it over recent years. With more people researching and buying their holidays online, travel agents have been understandably concerned for their future. Indeed our recent travel survey revealed that 84% of our customers and readers do their holiday research online.

Expert destination knowledge was the hook travel agents could use to fall back on. But now they have another ace up their sleeve to coax travel-lovers back in to their retail units: virtual reality.

Thanks to virtual reality headsets, innovative travel agents are allowing holidaymakers to take an immersive look at foreign attractions and hotel facilities, without even leaving the building - let alone setting foot on a plane. It’s a glimpse of the future as well as your next holiday - all rolled in to one.

Hang on, how does this all work? Basically you place a pair of goggles over your eyes and are transported to a virtual space that looks astoundingly like the real thing. Move around and explore the scenery - and the virtual world moves with you. So you can be there, without actually being there.

What’s the point of using virtual reality?

There’s big world out there, with countless destinations begging to be explored. Choosing where to go on your next holiday isn’t always an easy choice. That’s where virtual reality can be a massive benefit, helping travel-lovers to imagine themselves in a certain place during the research phase - before they have actually parted with any money.

With VR technology you can experience snorkelling in the Seychelles. You can take in the Manhattan skyline from a helicopter. You can visit the Egyptian pyramids. And you can do it all without the need for a passport.

Thomas Cook - early adopters of VR technology - have already noted that they have seen customers booking types of holidays that they had not previously considered once they had used a VR headset. Sales of their helicopter tours in New York have improved by 28% and sales of Royal Caribbean cruises have leapt by 45%.

Want to try VR for yourself?

Currently Thomas Cook is the only UK travel agent that has incorporated VR into its retail units. There are eight branches where you can try it out: Westfield Stratford, Glasgow (Silverburn), Belfast (Victoria Square), Newcastle (Metrocentre), Chelmsford, Kingston, Milton Keynes and Bluewater. There are 40 immersive videos to view.

As other travel agents as well as hotels, tourist boards and other travel bodies wake up to the potential of virtual reality, you can expect this type of technology to become increasingly prevalent. And if it helps holidaymakers make bolder choices in terms of holiday destinations and holiday activities, that has to be a good thing.

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