Virtual Reality is really cool. Not only does it help you view life from a new perspective, but it also allows those of us who can’t travel to visit the places we never dreamed we’d be able to see. Expedia recently partnered with St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital to build a virtual reality experience allowing sick kids to live out their wildest dreams.
Expedia and St. Jude’s have a longstanding relationship and, every year, the travel company asks users to donate their Expedia Rewards Points to St. Jude. Expedia Rewards Points are earned through travel booked through Expedia and are typically redeemed for travel. This year, the company decided to do something a little different and started an initiative called “Dream Adventures,” a first-of-its-kind, immersive virtual reality campaign that allowed Expedia to help the children at St. Jude’s to travel the world. As part of the Dream Adventures campaign, Expedia points can be converted to a monetary value and donated to St. Jude.
“The goal of the Dream Adventures initiative was to bring the joy of travel and exploration to children at St. Jude,” says Vic Walia, senior director of brand marketing at Expedia. “We felt there was no better audience for this project than children with passionate imaginations and big dreams who were unable to actually travel.”
Using virtual reality to create a 360-degree scene, Expedia partnered with 180LA, a creative agency, to design a fully interactive experience in which the children could explore their surroundings, direct the actions of the on-site Expedia employee and immerse themselves in the experience. Walia says virtual reality technology made the children feel like they had truly visited their dream destinations—a feeling that just wouldn’t have been possible through any other medium.
The project took about nine months to complete and included real-time interactions with the kids and Expedia employees, or “trekkers,” who Expedia sent to the destinations.
“The real-time interactions allowed the kids to converse with and literally experience the moment with the Expedia employees. They were able to talk, ask questions and build a unique bond. This had a profound effect on both parties,” describes Pierre Janneau, creative director at 180LA.
Virtual reality was the best way for the project to really bring these amazing destinations to the kids. Though other types of virtual reality technology, such as VR goggles, could have worked just as well, Janneau says wearing headsets can be a bit jarring for children who are going through chemotherapy. Thus, the immersive 360 experiences allowed them to enjoy the locations in a unique way tailored to their specific situation.
“We wanted the kids to feel like they have been transported to these places and VR technology was a big part of it,” says Janneau. “Without VR, the experience and the connections these kids had with the Expedia employees wouldn’t have been as powerful.”
Walia says the goal of Dream Adventures was to help these children explore the world, dive in the ocean, play with horses and monkeys and to have a joyful experience. A goal they said they met, in addition to raising awareness for St. Jude.
“We also want to leverage this program to drive awareness for St. Jude across the Expedia family and encourage our consumers to donate their Expedia+ rewards points directly to the hospital,” he says. “The response from consumers and the Expedia community, in particular, has been tremendous and we are proud to have been able to work with our partners in this endeavor.”
As we continue to see the virtual reality market emerge, it’s exciting to witness how different brands and companies are able to translate the experience in unique ways with positive results.