Virtual Reality Immerses Would-Be Tourists into the Beach

Published by The Sand Paper

By Maria Scandale [May 22, 2019]

MANAHAWKIN — The newest way to wow potential tourists about Ocean County is to immerse them in a 360-degree virtual reality tour.

They’re splashed in the wash of the surf; they’re leaning over the boat, hauling in a catch; swooshing down the waterslide; feeling the thrilling stomach drop of a roller coaster ride.

Wearing an “oculus” headset, people at travel trade shows are drawn in by virtual reality video to “Escape the Ordinary” and come to Ocean County.

Two-minute VR videos were produced by Oak Leaf Media for an Ocean County Tourism Department campaign, among other state-of-the-art commercials the locally based company has done.

Virtual reality was recently shown to the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce at its May meeting celebrating National Tourism and Small Business Week. The meeting was held at The Mainland at Holiday Inn, Manahawkin.

The virtual reality experience is so intense that Dana Lancellotti, county director of tourism, brings a special chair to tourism expos for viewers to sit while they’re wearing the headset. That’s particularly for the roller coaster pinnacle.

“When you’re in it, you feel it’s real,” she said of the visual masterpiece. “In Montreal, one woman took the headset off and said, ‘I feel like I’ve been on vacation for two minutes, it was so wonderful.’”

By the way, Lancellotti told chamber members, the promotional video on the Ocean County Tourism YouTube page “belongs to all of you. If anybody wants to get an oculus and have a copy of this and have it at your location, or use it for marketing purposes… contact us.”

Brendan Walsh, Oak Leaf Media director and senior editor, talked about the new technology with anyone who wanted to don a headset after the meeting. The Oak Leaf professionals had traveled to the Sundance Film Festival, where they got inspiration and information on VR.

“My partners and I went to Sundance last year … we went to every part of the festival we could get to, just to see what was new and hip, and I found it super-immersive. I really loved it,” Walsh said.

Meanwhile, Lancellotti, division director of Ocean County Business Development & Tourism, had been considering VR as a way to elevate the marketing materials for trade shows and expos.

Virtual reality became a reality with state grant money when the county partnered with Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce and the Long Beach Island Region Destination Marketing Organization.

“We liked it at Sundance, Dana mentioned it, and I said, ‘This is something we can do; I know we can do it,” the Oak Leaf Media director summed up.

“We had to break a couple barriers. We were so used to shooting two-dimensional, traditional camera commercials.”

They used new cameras specific to the process, including the Insta 360, which looks like a robot with its half-dozen lenses that film and stitch the images together.

“It’s very new software for editing, but once we got a handle on how it works, it was very cool,” Walsh said. “And now we have the capability, and we’re going to be doing more.

“It’s definitely a niche. Not everybody has a headset, but you can view VR on your phone now. So YouTube videos that are uploaded, you can use your phone just like the VR headset.”

Not every debut video at the chamber meeting was in 3D. Attendees also viewed a stellar Thrive in 105 video created by Oak Leaf Media as part of the Just Beneath the Surface video series.

—Maria Scandale