New site allows a "virtual vacation" before booking

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The Independent Online

A leading online travel firm has launched an augmented reality website to help consumers get to know their destination before booking.

Accessible to anyone with a webcam and microphone, Virtual Vacation from offers virtual reality tours of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington DC, Las Vegas, San Francisco, New Orleans, Denver, San Diego and Seattle.

Users can use their webcam and a specially printed marker or smartphone image to move a 3D image of their selected city around on the screen.

Then, they can explore or modify local landmarks, customize street signs, land a plane at the airport, or insert themselves into a postcard and send to friends and family through social networking sites.

The site also provides trip planning information, such as local weather, event information, and special deals along with a booking tool. says that rich media such as augmented reality represent the future direction of travel booking.

"This is more than a fun and entertaining way to virtually visit cities across the country. It is a natural progression toward how future travel plans will be researched and booked, and represents an evolution of our brand from offline to social channels," says the company's Vic Walia.

"VirtualVacation provides real-time feeds for local event information, hotel booking options, weather and a lot more utility than most first-generation augmented reality concepts."

Earlier this year, travel planning site TripWolf became the first augmented-reality enabled travel guide when it unveiled its new iPhone app in March.

The guide combines the GPS and compass functionality of the iPhone 3GS to enable travelers to point their handset at any object in a foreign city and retrieve all available information the online travel guide has, without having to open up the handbook or enter any data.