A 360-degree interactive video of a helicopter flight over the glaciers and waterfalls around B.C.’s Nimmo Bay Resort has swooped in and captured the attention of millions on the Internet.
“I don’t know how you would get more phone calls or more reaction to doing something,” said NorthStudio360 vice-president Chris Boag, who spearheaded the video project with colleague Ryan Whitehead on behalf of Nimmo Bay Resort.
“At the rate it’s going, the Nimmo Bay website is going to have between 30 and 50 million people looking at it this year, which I believe is probably more than all the tourist websites in B.C. put together.”
The Nimmo Bay video is unlike standard 360-degree virtual tours, which are comprised of a series of still photographs and have become a common feature on real estate and hotel sites. The Nimmo Bay video, launched last month, allows a viewer to drag and click around the screen to view any direction – all while the helicopter travels forward.
But Boag said that while this kind of interactive 360 video technology does already exist on the web, albeit only as of about a year ago, NorthStudio360’s project has propelled the technology forward by shooting with industry-standard cameras.
The final quality of the film, he said, is so high that the Internet and home computers can’t handle it. Boag said the actual video the studio has produced is six or seven times larger than the one posted on Nimmo Bay’s site that’s generating so much buzz.
“We basically just took 360 video, took it from DVD and moved it up to Blue-ray,” he said.
For Nimmo Bay, no stranger to fame after being featured in a 2005 episode of Boston Legal, the 360 video is a story of a marketing risk that appears to be panning out.
“[NorthStudio360] took a chance, it worked and it worked for all of us,” said Nimmo Bay owner Craig Murray. “We all took a risk on this.”
The project was launched a year and a half back when the studio approached website client Nimmo Bay about making the video as a test of a new technology NorthStudio had developed.
Murray said that after 30 years using traditional resort marketing avenues with limited success, and depending mostly on word-of-mouth recommendations, an Internet technology seemed a smart strategy.
Beyond the initial outlays for helicopter filming – where Nimmo Bay has the advantage of having its own helicopters – Murray noted that there are continuing web-hosting costs associated with running such an information-rich video.
“That’s what you have to sort of get looked after and get into hand because it will break the bank quickly,” he said.
But he noted that, for the amount of people it’s currently reaching, it remains cheap marketing.
Charlie James, president of Tourism Smart Marketing, which has resort clients, said a resort contemplating using the technology needs to look behind the “gee whiz” factor and think about whether the technology does, in fact, suit its location. James said that while Nimmo Bay’s stunning and isolated mountain location is ideal for the concept, other resorts, such as Long Beach Lodge Resort in Tofino, wouldn’t get the same kind of value if they tried to make a similar helicopter video.
“If you go up in a helicopter and you use 360 video, you’re going to see that the Pacific Sands [Beach Resort] is right next door,” she pointed out.
Brent Purves, Internet marketing director for Stir Solutions, which provides tourism marketing services, commented that the technology could prove very useful in drawing a viewer into a resort or tourist destination experience, and noted that its use will become more feasible as Internet bandwidth expands and hosting becomes cheaper.
But he cautioned that resorts that pick up on the trend as it gets more accessible won’t benefit from the novelty factor.
“[Nimmo Bay’s video] has gone viral because it’s new and obviously it’s beautiful shots so people are sending it to friends,” he said. “But how many of those videos will you watch? The first couple are unique, but after a while, it’s kind of, ‘Yeah, I’ve seen the glacier flyover and I’ve seen the helicopter flight up the river and all the rest.’ So I would imagine it’s going to lose its lustre.”
For now, though, Boag said the calls are coming in every 45 minutes from companies in mining, oil and gas, surfboarding and in “heli-everything,” to name a few. Boag said he’s looking to hire as the 360 video projects start to accrue.
“We’ve been contacted by more governments than I can list,” he said.
“We’ve been contacted by the tourism board in Italy, by the one in Portugal, by the one in France, by the one in England, by the one for South Africa. And it just goes on and on.”
As to seeing new competition dash into the fray, Boag said he’s not too worried about the company losing its edge. Already, he said, he’s gotten calls from movie, photography and the few 360-video companies out there. For now, he said, no one seems to be able to figure out how to pull off a video like Nimmo Bay’s.
“It doesn’t seem to be rocket science, but it does seem to be complicated for others to do,” he said. “Eventually, sure, there’s going to be lots of people rushing to do this. But I think we have the edge right now and we’ll probably keep the edge for awhile.”
For Murray, the question becomes watching how many of the video’s millions of web viewers decide to visit the resort. Already, he said, reservations are starting to creep upward.
“How many of those will be coming to Nimmo Bay? Very few,” he said. “But very few on that scale is a lot of people.”