by Ian Roantree
On a good week, in a busy season, Tupper Lake’s Chamber of Commerce is the default Tupper Lake tourist information center, providing local knowledge to the eager tourists who visit our town throughout the year. During the tourist-heavy months, anywhere from 30 to 50 tourists per week come through the chamber doors at 121 Park Street looking for things to do.
With all of the great places and breathtaking views that our area has to offer, simply leafing through brochures or surfing through online photo galleries doesn’t always do them justice. Which is why the Wild Center and ROOST have teamed up to offer tourists, and potential Wild Center customers an immersive experience.
The experience is a visual one, putting the viewer in a immobile look out, like being inside the tower viewers found at tourist destinations around the world. But it’s not a clunky, heavy set of binoculars that squeak as they turn, it’s an Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset.
By slipping on these VR goggles, you can be swiftly taken somewhere else while remaining in the comfort of the chamber office. While the experience that ROOST and the Wild Center have created within the goggles are mild compared to what VR technology is capable of, your senses are still tricked as you’re brought into a three dimensional, panoramic simulation.
Users will find themselves in the middle of a guided tour through the museum, or on the Wild Walk, while other Wild Center guests walk amongst you. But it’s not limited to the Wild Center. The VR headset will take you to the top of Goodman Mountain, the Tupper Lake golf course, the municipal park looking out over Raquette Pond, and other scenic spots within the community and surrounding area.
Unlike the Wild Center footage, however, the other destinations are still images stitched together in a panorama, still creating the same effect of being there. No matter where you look, up, down, left, right, behind and in front, robust images fill the space. It feels like you can almost reach out and feel the environment that the goggles take you to.
It all started with the VR marketing company, Frameless Technologies, which were contacted by the Wild Center for help with this campaign. “We wanted to go to trade shows and conferences and try to get tour operators and travel agents interested in putting the Wild Center in their products,” said Patrick Murphy, the Wild Center’s community engagement coordinator. “It (VR) was an easy way to communicate what the Wild Center is to people across the country.”
“We produced some video, got a few of our own headsets and shared it at a tourism advisory council meeting and some of the folks there from the Saranac Lake chamber were interested in putting it in their visitor center,” Murphy continued.
This project is still in testing stages. The VR headset at the Tupper Lake chamber office was donated by Frameless Technologies for a pilot run to see how people engage and interact with it, and to see if it actually draws those users to different locations around town.
To create the videos and images viewed inside the Oculus Rift headset, special photography and videography techniques and equipment are required. Capturing a 360 degree image is one thing; capturing video is another endeavor.
The first time Frameless Technologies visited the Wild Center to capture 360 video content, they brought a GoPro rigged with five cameras that together filmed live. In post-production, the footage captured was stitched together seamlessly by a software. The VR company returned later with a newer camera, that looked like a ball that worked to the same effect although fetching higher quality results.
Despite the content-rich TupperLake.com, where you can see panoramic images of our surrounding area on your computer or smart phone screen, much like you’d see through the VR goggles (albeit much less immersive), some folk, usually the older ones, want to to go straight to the source of information. Now, they can get both the human interaction while experiencing the power of digital marketing with the virtual reality (VR) technologies that will hopefully entice those tourists to check out the sights the goggles display.
But with a result driven attitude, ROOST’s Tupper Lake regional marketing manager, Katie Stuart recognizes that this project is only as good as the outcomes it produces. “We want to track people coming here and putting it on, but how can we really know if people are going out to these destinations?”
The simple solution Stuart and Murphy came to was asking users to post on social media with a hashtag (that is yet to be decided) with a picture of the destinations they visited.
And as this project becomes more widely used, more still photos and videos are intended to be added to the VR goggles to attract visitors to other areas and stores in the area.
“We’d like to include local businesses like Spruce and Hemlock and Birch Boys and other trails and summits in the area,” said Sue Fitzpatrick, a chamber of commerce board member and volunteer.
Even for those who learn about Tupper Lake online instead of at the chamber like some, anyone can view the Wild Center’s VR videos at wildcenter.org/vr/ and can be viewed from your smartphone, computer or even uploaded to your own VR device.