Startup makes VR a conservation, sales tool in tourism

Photo credit: Hiverlab

Hiverlab – a young virtual reality (VR) startup based in Singapore – in the past two years found a market for its drag-and-drop video production software in the tourism industry, and believes it is laying the groundwork for a better future in travel and beyond.

The company started out about four years ago as a vendor producing 3D, 360-degree videos. In more recent years, it went on to roll out a software that allows users to create their own VR content, which can then be shared privately to the personal devices of their chosen viewers, complete with real-time voice communication, Ender Jiang, founder and chief marketing technologist of the startup, shared with TTG Asia.

Photo credit: Hiverlab

Today, tour operators make up about 25 per cent of the user base (300 and growing), while educational content forms the largest category.

For now, tour operators and tourism suppliers can use the Storyhive platform as a sales tool, for offline public engagement events, or even during actual guided tours.

“A key function of the software is it allows users to link up multiple people (in different locations). (Tour operators) can use it as a sales tool, where viewers can enjoy the virtual tour and be guided from anywhere. (Sales and marketing touch points are) no longer limited to trade show or physical agencies,” Jiang said.

He added: “In this industry, there are two major relationships and the one between attraction owners and agencies is a big one. Attractions can use this to do B2B pitching, using our technology to enhance its communications.”

The lead-in licence is free of charge, but allows content creators to share the content and interact only with two viewers. “We have to invest a lot more by making our solution an open platform. We are earning much less now (than when we produced VR content mainly as a vendor). But we get a lot more customers. We are building trust and giving users the first step in their VR content creation journey. Then more business will come.”

For larger-scale use, i.e. sharing with more than 10 viewers, monthly subscription starts from US$9 per month. The corporate licence for unlimited scale is priced at US$2,999 a year. This is typically used for presentations to bigger groups, such as at events and conferences.

The goal however is to evolve the product from a software to an open library platform, which Jiang expects will happen two to three years from now. This means tour operators can use educational, conservation- or heritage-centric content on the platform to enrich the experience for participants.

Indirectly, some of the content being produced today as a result of the company making VR (and 3D scanning) technology accessible could be contributing to the preservation of tourism assets for the enjoyment of future travellers.

For example, an art history professor in Singapore has captured 3D images of churches in Famagusta, Cyprus, and published it onto the Storyhive platform. Jiang shared: “In one church building, there were paintings on the walls that were removed in the 1970s. They found a way to recover the paintings, but these will (age) and deteriorate (eventually) no matter how you preserve them… 3D scanning allows us to digitise it, and the images can be used in the future.”

In another case of how Hiverlab is helping the sustainability cause, a San Francisco organisation has used the software in its efforts to educate on coral bleaching in the Maldives and send out conservation messages.

“This is one of the largest organisations digitising corals and taking 3D scans of them. The content they created on our platform talks about corals being damaged. The scans are helpful for coral restoration efforts.

“We hope to create meaningful content. Content that helps the conservation of heritage and nature fall under the category… Digital media is something you can copy. But you can’t copy nature or (historical significance),” he remarked.

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