Digital Maps and Virtual Tours in the Age of Social Distancing

June 2, 2020 by Sam Slater

The recent pandemic has brought with it drastic changes in everyday life and business for numerous industries. Higher education may be changing its entire business model in response, while the hospitality industry is among the hardest-hit sectors. Health care, of course, is one of the industries front and center in the entire situation, and the effects will be long-lasting.

Right now, professionals in these and many other industries are scrambling to attract and engage their core audiences. Hotels can’t welcome guests, while colleges cannot host high school students. Even online merchants, who are seeing an average of 54% increase in revenue as a result of at-home customers, are facing unusual challenges in inventory and efficiency shortcomings. 

In this uncertain and unprecedented environment, new technologies are beginning to take center stage. Even as the first countries and U.S. states are beginning to open back up, social distancing is not likely to go away anytime soon. New marketing and customer engagement possibilities are needed now, and that need will last months if not years into the future.

In this context, digital maps and virtual tours are beginning to take on new importance. Formerly regarded by many as a fun online engagement tool, they’ve become a vital means of both marketing and operations in an age where a simple visit or in-person planning tour has become difficult to impossible.

In this post, we’ll talk through those technologies in more detail. Taking a closer look at four industries particularly impacted by COVID-19, we examine just how virtual tours and digital maps can make a much-needed impact on driving attention, efficiency, and revenue.

The Power of Digital Maps and Virtual Tours in Higher Education

Marketing and admissions in higher education may never be the same again. Colleges and universities who have virtual tours in place have placed them front and center as they’ve had to cancel open houses and admitted student days. Those who didn’t are scrambling to coordinate virtual experiences that can approximate their in-person events.

According to one study, traffic for virtual tours was up more than 200% in March 2020 compared to the same month last year. Meanwhile, a survey of 5,000 high school seniors focused on the issues surrounding COVID-19 found virtual tours becoming the major deciding factor in choosing the right college during this time. 

Higher education marketers know the power of the campus visit. Virtual tours, while not an exact replacement, can get close to approximating that same experience. They show future students and their families the campus, including residence halls and academic buildings, as well as popular hang-out spots. Built with the right content, they can also showcase student life, research emphases, and other core brand promises that the university wants to convey.

It’s difficult to imagine reliance on these types of tours going back to secondary anytime soon. Even as social distancing rules relax, quickly checking out the schools on a student’s shortlist is much more convenient than taking a day to schedule a visit. Colleges that have built out their virtual tours will see a crucial advantage both short and long-term.

Long Beach COVID 19

Maximizing Efficiencies Through Digital Maps in the Health Care Sector

Hospitals and other major healthcare institutions find themselves in a unique situation. The shutdown of voluntary surgeries has caused many rural institutions to serve many fewer patients than originally anticipated. But in crisis areas like New York, efficiency becomes crucial in reducing redundancies.

We’ve written about efficiencies created by digital maps in health care in the past:

Start with a network of localized sensors and RFID tags that emit a small unique signature for each asset you want to track. Combine this with an interactive map that your staff mobile devices and workstations can access, and find any asset much more quickly than doing a room and hallway search of the area it’s supposed to be in. A moving pinpoint on the map will mark each easy to find asset.

What’s really interesting is that this can be used to quickly locate shelves of supplies as well. Simply by documenting which shelf an item is located on, a staff member in a hurry can do a quick search of the interactive map rather than looking by-hand.

That last piece is especially relevant in the current situation. Finding the right equipment quickly is crucial, especially when volunteer or new staff has to help out. Finally, digital maps can also help patients find the right entrance and route through the hospital quickly, reducing bottlenecks and large gatherings or groups.

Building Equity and Buyer Trust in the Real Estate Industry

Real estate agents and developers were a non-essential industry during statewide shutdowns. Now, they struggle to showcase and sell their space to their core audiences. For many individuals and even businesses, a new property is among the most significant investments possible. An in-person visit has long been essential for this type of high-leverage purchase.

Real estate was among the first industries to discover the value of virtual tours. That has continued until this day, amplified by emerging technologies like virtual and augmented reality opportunities. Showcasing a space that’s ready to buy may not quite make up for the in-person visit, but they come close.

That makes virtual experiences a natural fit for real estate developers looking to distinguish themselves during a time when digital is the only communication option. In fact, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) specifically recommends virtual tours for agents looking to showcase the spaces they’re looking to sell.

For developers and managers of larger property projects, digital maps can also become an important communication tool. These maps can show not just the property in its detail and nuances, but also its context and surroundings. That’s crucial for any buyer investing not just in a single building, but an entire space and community.

Improved Warehousing and Logistics in the E-Commerce Space

E-commerce is among the few industries coming out of the current lockdowns and social distancing guidelines as better off. Revenues are up, not just among giants like Amazon but also smaller businesses who sell their goods online. When going to the store is no longer simple, the website becomes a natural alternative.

woman managing warehouse inventory on tablet

3D map can enhance warehouse logistics in a number of ways:

  • Creating an accurate representation of space and shelves, helping with both space planning and training.
  • Building a virtual-locational inventory that shows exactly where individual items are located for easier retraction.
  • Using sensors to track specific assets, tracking your most important stock through the warehousing process.
  • Live update vehicle and access locations, allowing staff to quickly find assets and equipment when needed and close by.
  • Plotting navigational paths for easy order retrieval and assembly, through paths that can be simulated for speed in the map.
  • Highlight the location of key resources that staff and retrieval personnel will need to reduce time and effort.

As much as COVID-19 has driven revenue in e-Commerce, it has also strained supply chains even for giants like Amazon. Optimized warehouse logistics allows for more efficiency and ultimately better business operations.

Preparing for the Storm after the Calm With Virtual Tours for Hotels

The final industry we’ll consider in this post is also the one under the most duress. Hotel owners are now considering the crisis worse than 9/11 or the Great Recession at and after 2008. 

But it will bounce back, as it always has. Especially as public restrictions are lifted and social distancing is no longer necessary,  countless travelers will look to “get away” and out of their house. Hotels that are prepared for this shift will be the big winners of the post-pandemic industry recovery. 

According to some experts, millennials will be most likely to travel once those restrictions lift. They also happen to be the audience most likely to travel, using them frequently to find their ideal travel destination.

That makes this calm time with low occupancy rates a perfect time to build a new virtual tour. It allows you to showcase the best side of your destination, creating an online experience that showcases just what travelers and tourists can expect once they’re actually able to book again.

360-Tour-360-Video

The Age of Social Distancing — its Impact on Digital Maps and Virtual Tours

Virtual tours are nothing new. They’ve existed for over a decade. They are a mainstay in some industries. But in the current pandemic, they’ve become more important than ever for showcasing your business.

The same is true for digital maps, which offer the ability to plan and build efficiencies at much greater rates than any other virtual solution. From higher education to e-Commerce, now is the perfect time to invest in the technology your audience and business needs as they transition to fully digital communications. Get in touch to start the conversation.

Topics: 360° TourDigital MapsVirtual Engagement

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