The Future Is Now: Exploring the Effectiveness of Virtual Reality for Tourism Marketing Through Presence and Emotion

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Khoo, Catheryn S
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Potter, Leigh Ellen C
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Virtual Reality (VR)’s unprecedented ability to virtually transport the user is purported to be its biggest strength. Yet, despite postulations about VR’s benefits as a tourism marketing tool; the concept of presence, ubiquitous in ICT and cyberpsychology research on immersive technologies, remains nascent in tourism literature. More importantly, researchers in the field have called for empirical studies focused on the determinants as well as consequences of presence, particularly in commercial environments. Existing presence literature has shown that both determinants and consequences of presence are not transferrable across contexts. Understanding the interplay of presence determinants is vital for optimising the technology’s utilisation in different contexts, especially for budget and development focus considerations. A VR experience developed for education or training purposes would have differing impacts and emphasis when compared to a VR experience developed for tourism marketing purposes. Thus, the objective of this project was to investigate the effectiveness of VR as a tourism marketing tool, anchored through establishing a framework encompassing the determinants (immersion, ecological validity, engagement) and consequences of presence on emotional response – an association that has been suggested in cyberpsychology studies. Using a mixedmethod randomised within-subjects experiment, 72 participants experienced computergenerated, fully synthetic virtual environments of a cruise ship. The experiences were administered across pictures, video, and VR. This thesis is structured as a series of three papers. Paper 1 was a critical review aimed at establishing the presence-emotion-intention conceptual framework. Through reviewing VR and presence literature across disciplines, the paper uncovered gaps in previous presence research, compounded by the fragmented and evolving approach to exploring presence. Methodologically, paper 1 revealed the lack of qualitative approaches to presence and VR research, informing the mixed-methods approach of this thesis. The literature review also highlighted that whilst VR research in tourism is growing, researchers have called for future studies to focus specifically on presence determinants. Quantitative findings were presented through Paper 2. Findings from this paper suggest that VR is significantly more effective than traditional media in evoking positive emotional responses to the stimuli. Theoretical implications include suggestions that fully-interactive synthetic VR may be more effective than 360° VR due to the significance of engagement as a presence determinant. Managerial implications include suggestions to focus on engagement mechanics, rather than chasing photo-realistic VR advancements, for impact on emotional response. Paper 3 presented qualitative phase findings. 36 participants were interviewed after experiencing all three stimuli. In terms of triangulation, similar results were found – participants associated the engagement and immersion presence determinants with increases in their positive emotional response as well as intention to visit the cruise. However, several unexpected themes emerged – the sense of agency and goal congruence that users associated with the levels of engagement that VR provided. Participants felt that being in control to see what they wanted, how they wanted, and when they wanted, positively affected their emotional response toward the stimuli and corresponding behavioural intentions toward the cruise. Several participants also attributed a positive shift in perception of cruising to the presence levels from VR, suggesting that the influence of higher presence was amplified for marketing enclosed, all-inclusive tourism products such as cruising or resorts. Theoretically, paper 3 introduced the association between engagement and sense of agency as a key component to the effectiveness of VR for marketing; previously unexplored. The findings also suggested the incorporation of dimensions from cognitive appraisal theory such as goal congruence into the presence-emotion framework from papers 1 and 2. Methodologically, the thesis overall highlights the importance and value of mixed-methods in VR research; traditionally heavily focused only on quantitative approaches. Practically, this thesis emphasises the focus on engagement and level of agency that marketers introducing VR should provide potential travellers. Users should be given a sense that they are in control and involved as an active participant to the virtual experience. As a whole, this thesis established a top-to-bottom presence-emotion-intention framework; a platform for future theoretical exploration and practical applications of VR in tourism and marketing. More importantly, the framework and insights from the papers in this thesis provide avenues for future VR research in tourism to focus on comparing differences in VR platforms, instead of against traditional media.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Degree Program
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Dept Tourism, Sport & Hot Mgmt
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Virtual Reality
marketing tool
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