Not in Westchester County?
September 22, 2019Cart


by Westchester County Business Journal

Dutchess Tourism offers virtual county road trip

In just two and half minutes, you travel from the middle of a Culinary Institute of America kitchen to Poughkeepsie’s famed Walkway Over the Hudson.

Next, you’re kayaking in Mills Norrie State Park, then listening to crickets chirp on a hike along the Appalachian Trail.

Finally, you’re in the backseat of a propeller plane that takes off from Rhinebeck Aerodrome and cruises over the Hudson.

Mary Kay Vrba, left, and Nancy Lutz test a plastic viewer placed over a cellphone to see virtual reality video. Photo by Ryan Deffenbaugh

When the video stops, you remove your virtual reality headset and reacquaint yourself with your office cubicle. You didn’t actually travel anywhere, of course, but Dutchess Tourism Inc. hopes you’ll be inspired to.

Last fall, the nonprofit tourism agency launched a virtual reality promotional video for the county, the first agency to do so in the Hudson Valley. The video provides immersive, quick stops at the CIA, Walkway Over the Hudson and other popular Dutchess locales.

“We always look for what’s new and try to get ahead for Dutchess tourism,” said Mary Kay Vrba, president and CEO of Dutchess Tourism Inc. “We’ll take any opportunity we have to be the first in the field to do something.”

Vrba said she saw a virtual reality video at a tourism conference in Lake Placid for the village’s Olympic ski jump and thought the idea could be used to promote Dutchess County as a whole.

Starting in spring 2017, the organization worked with its advertising agency BBG&G, in Orange County, to put together the video. Ellenbogen Creative Media in Kingston was brought in to handle the video’s production.

A crew of three from Ellenbogen — a cameraman, director and audio technician — worked with Dutchess Tourism, BBG&G and a group of hired actors to shoot at a number of county landmarks over a two-day period last summer. The video cost between $20,000 and $25,000 for its planning, production and editing, Vrba said.

“We tried to think, where would be the most immersive places that you’d want to see?” said Nancy Lutz, director of communications for Dutchess Tourism. “A garden in Vanderbilt mansion, the Appalachian Trail. Where would people most like to see themselves? Especially if you’re in a cubicle in New York City and you’re thinking, ‘where can I get away?’”

The tourism officials didn’t have much to go by in planning the video. Vrba said she believes Dutchess is the state’s first destination marketing organization to release a virtual reality video.

“I talked to some of my colleagues about doing it, they said ‘we’re gonna let you go first,’” Vrba said with a laugh.

The group at first considered shooting individual videos for each location, but Vrba said they later decided it was important to have the video focus on multiple locations to give an overall view of the county’s offerings.

“For a weekend, you wouldn’t come here and just eat or just go to historical sites, you would do a little bit of all those things,” Lutz added.

Dutchess Tourism and BBG&G originally put together a voice-over to guide the video. Vrba said that ended up being distracting, so the group instead decided the “sights can speak for themselves.”

There was a script for the hired actors though. At one point a tourist shouts “look, an eagle!” while kayaking on the Hudson.

The video is available on the Dutchess Tourism website, as well as YouTube and Vimeo. A 360 degrees version of the video can be viewed on any browser, while the full three-dimensional VR version requires a smartphone and VR headset.

But the headset is not as large a barrier to viewing as it may sound. While a high-end virtual reality set for gaming can cost more than $400, the Dutchess Tourism video can be viewed through a plastic set of glasses that clip on to any smartphone. The organization keeps them stocked in its office along with brochures and local magazines. Vrba recommends watching in a chair with full swivel ability to get the total 360 degrees effect.

The video has only been viewed just over 500 times on Vimeo and YouTube, which Vrba blames on a slow promotional roll out. She said the organization is ramping up its efforts to bring attention to it. That will help it draw more views, as will an increase of virtual reality headsets in homes as the industry grows.

The video has already proved a fun way to draw people to the Dutchess booth at tourism trade shows. The organization has brought its VR headsets to conferences as far away as Ireland and Germany to show to both travel agents and travelers.

“We’ve gotten some really positive response from that, particularly people saying ‘wow, this is New York?’” Vrba said. “Everybody knows New York City, and that’s what the international visitor thinks about. And now they can see something that’s within 30 minutes outside New York City. You can experience this great, other New York.”

Tourists spent $568 million in Dutchess County in 2016, helping the industry keep more than 10,000 people employed and while generating $28 million in sales tax revenue. Those numbers have been increasing each year, Vrba said, as evidenced by a 9 percent increase last year in the county’s hotel occupancy tax collections.

The VR video has also won the respect of its marketing peers. In February, Dutchess Tourism received a Gold AVA Digital Award in an international digital communications competition judged by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals.

Vrba said that Dutchess Tourism has enough extra footage to produce additional VR experience videos focusing on individual locations. The organization also plans to shoot VR videos for more landmarks in the future.

Vrba framed the VR as part of an overall media effort to make sure it’s reaching as many eyeballs as possible. The organization has shot several standard videos of county attractions and hosts live Facebook tours from different destinations each week.

“We’re always looking at what’s new and how to reach new markets,” Vrba said. “Particularly millennials, who are so in tune with phones and technology, that we need to stay on top of that in order to show what we have here.”

Watch the video on YouTube here: