Accenture has unveiled its XR Event Planner, a mixed reality app that lets event planners view hotel spaces in virtual reality or augmented reality in order to figure out whether they should book the rooms.
Accenture is collaborating with AR and VR chip creator Qualcomm and has created demos of the planner with InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) to show how the technology can simplify the process of booking events at hotels.
IHG, which owns 16 hotel chains, including the Holiday Inn, is exploring how to use the solution to help event planners book its event spaces. The process can normally take six months, but Accenture created the app to make it easier and faster, said Raffaella Camera, global head of innovation and market strategy at Accenture Extended Reality, in an interview with VentureBeat.
“To set up an event, you have to work with the hotel sales personnel, an event planner of some kind, and then the end buyer,” Camera said. “This process can take a very long time, all the way up to six months, and you have to go and visit every room, even if it is in a completely different city or a different country.”
She added, “And even if they get to see their room, often it’s not set up the way they want, either. It’s not set up at all. To go back and forth and communicate is a lot of work. We wanted to see if we could do it a little bit differently and use this idea of extending the journey through devices.”
Accenture is also asking hotel clients to see if they will implement the full-fledged configurable solution for their main event rooms while equipping their other event spaces with simpler iterations of the XR Event Planner.
Developed by the Accenture Extended Reality (XR) practice, the XR Event Planner solution places event planners, buyers, and hotel sales staff side by side in a virtual reconstruction of an event space.
I tried it out recently at CES 2020, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas. The app enabled me to see a hotel space at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown hotel. I saw a big ballroom with a garage door that opened so that attendees could see the pool area. I was able to play around with the number of guests expected and see what would change if that number went up or down.
“You could have the salesperson in Los Angeles [and] you could have the end client out in Singapore, and they can either all you know made changes at the same time or you could even have a salesperson make a change and see it in real time on the device,” Camera said. “With corporate buyers and planners, it tested really well.”
I navigated around the hotel space and was able to configure the number of tables, the lighting, and other features. The app lets event planners remotely view how they can alter the environment in real time to suit their own needs. They can change things like the types of tables, table settings, fabric patterns, and carpet. I was also able to see what the room looked like with the big garage door for the pool area open or closed.
Users can add notes for colleagues or for the hotel set-up crew. Camera said the tool could boost event sales for hotels by 8%.
Some of the work could be tough for hotels, like designing spaces in VR and AR that accurately reflect the real spaces, but Accenture is likely to help with that process, Camera said.
Still, the solution represents an important step toward addressing challenges within the meetings and events industry, a $330 billion annual market in the U.S. alone, she said.
Currently, booking event spaces can be a slow and expensive undertaking, requiring event planners to scout geographically distant locations. The lengthy time frame to close a sale results not only in lost opportunities, but also increased booking costs for property owners, event planners, and end buyers.
In addition to improved sales, hoteliers estimate the app could reduce sales cycle time, decrease booking costs, and improve brand loyalty and brand affinity, particularly with millennials.
Brian Vogelsang, senior director of product management at Qualcomm, said in a statement that XR has the potential to revolutionize the enterprise, and event planning in particular.
Jeff Edwards, senior vice president at IHG, said in a statement that the XR tool will help hotels close event sales faster and increase productivity help clients book event spaces without having to travel as much.
Accenture designed the pilot solution for multiple platforms, including mobile phones and tablets, Nreal AR glasses, and the HTC Vive Focus Plus VR headsets. I checked out the app with all of those devices, and it worked fine. I could see things that you would only see if you were in the room, like whether a certain structure obstructed someone’s view.
“You can go to the back of a room and see the line of sight to a speaker,” Camera said.