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USA Today taps interactive map for tourism-centric VR experience

USA Today Network?s content studio is powering an interactive, mobile-optimized map that showcases Tourism Australia?s virtual reality and 360-degree experiences within the publisher?s application, underscoring media's interest in mastering augmented reality content.

USA Today Network?s GET Creative studio is promoting Australia?s native wildlife and terrain through an interactive map that enables users to virtually tour four locations along Australia?s coast. The campaign, which is accessible on the VR Stories by USA Today app as well as its mobile and desktop sites, could kick off an influx of partnerships between publishers and tourism companies seeking to leverage VR to boost a destination?s number of visitors.

?Virtual reality provides a powerful way to not only tell stories but allows us to bring our readers into the story through this immersive technology,? said Kelly Andresen, vice president of branded content and head of GET Creative. ?We?ve been working on using storytelling through VR for news, and now we are bringing that ability to brands while coupling it with our expansive national-to-local audience.?

Touring Australia via mobile
USA Today Network?s partnership with Tourism Australia marks the distribution of the former?s first branded virtual reality campaign for a travel company. The GET Creative studio is providing supplementary content, such as the interactive map that displays Tourism Australia?s virtual reality and 360-degree videos.

Consumers can access the campaign on USA Today?s mobile and desktop sites, as well as on the VR Stories by USA Today app.

There, users can tap on the Australia-related content and navigate through their VR journeys. For instance, within the VR Stories by USA Today app, individuals can choose to ?Meet Wild Australia? or browse the ?4 Best Breathtaking Views.?

Clicking on the former brings users to four available videos, dedicated to topics such as snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef and meeting a family of kangaroos.

Once individuals select which video they would like to watch, they will be asked if they would prefer to watch in standard view or VR mode. Picking VR mode will superimpose a pair of goggles on the screen, through which viewers can explore their lush surroundings by tilting and rotating their smartphones.

Choosing the standard view option will enable consumers to leverage 360-degree video and swivel their mobile devices to fully experience the setting.

Although the 360-degree videos and VR experiences were created by Tourism Australia, USA Today hopes to drive awareness for the tourism destinations as well as provide readers with interactive and engaging materials.

Travel?s VR connection
A growing number of travel and hospitality brands are leveraging augmented reality experiences to entice consumers to visit their properties and locales by bringing the settings to life on their smartphones. If individuals can virtually explore a potential destination or hotel from every angle in real-time, they may be much more likely to picture themselves in that spot and book the trip if the reaction is favorable.

Hilton Hotels & Resorts was one of the first hospitality marketers to implement 360-degree video in an ad unit that enabled consumers to tilt or rotate their smartphones as they were immersed in a virtual visit to the chain's Barbados resort (see story).

USA Today and Tourism Australia will roll out additional content on May 23 to promote Australia?s beaches and landmarks. The content will also be accessible through an interactive, mobile-optimized map.

?Readers come to USA Today Network for our top-notch travel coverage and leading VR experiences every day,? Ms. Andresen said. ?Now we can also offer readers the ability to discover stunning VR showcasing one-of-a-kind Australian destinations too.

?Additionally, with Tourism Australia?s content living online and in our mobile app, it allows for consumers without the capabilities to view in VR to experience it through 360 videos.?