SCIENCE AND TECH
At the Conrad Chicago Hotel, Guests Preview Local Sights in Virtual Reality
Strap on your VR helmet and take a virtual preview of local landmarks and restaurants to help you decide whether it's worth making a reservation
It’s frustrating to finally get a chance to check something off your bucket list and it doesn’t live up to the hype. At all. To help visitors to the Windy City bypass over-rated attractions, the Conrad Chicago hotel has created the ultimate concierge experience.
Conrad is a luxury hotel line belonging to Hilton Worldwide; it opened its Chicago property in fall 2016. There, guests can try the world's first-ever "virtual reality enhanced concierge." The complimentary headsets are programmed with previews of Chicago experiences, from a trip to legendary Wrigley Field for a Cubs game to the top of the vertigo-inducing John Hancock Tilt for a bird’s eye view of the city’s spectacular skyline.
Each tour takes a few minutes to view, and guests can settle into the hotel lobby and watch as many as they like.
The VR headsets are part of Conrad's 1/3/5 program, which highlights several cities' most buzzed-about restaurants, swankiest cocktail lounges and iconic landmarks, and organizes each experience by whether it's best to set aside one, three or five hours to do it. In Chicago, for example, the suggestions range from a one-hour trip to a gourmet doughnut shop to a five-hour shopping excursion in the trendy Wicker Park neighbourhood.
While the 1/3/5 program covers a number of other major cities – including New York, London and numerous cities in Asia – only Chicago Conrad offers VR headsets. For now.
So, what's it like being a VR tourist?
We tried the VR John Hancock tour, which feels exceptionally real and gives the illusion that you’re 1,000 feet above ground looking down on the city. It allows a 360-degree view and sounds of the area on a beautiful, sunny day or at night.
The experience, of course, feels awkward at first if you’re new to VR. You must adjust your mind and allow yourself to be transported to this new location. Look down, and you’ll see people and cars moving along Michigan Avenue. Look up, and you’ll be awestruck by some of the world’s most significant architecture, which includes the Chicago Water Tower, a survivor of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. You’ll even be treated to a pretty view of Lake Michigan.
VR tours at Wrigley Field and Maggie Daley Park offer similar sensations, with the added incentive of feeling like you’re outdoors and in the middle of the action. You’ll hear the crack of a bat hitting a baseball, roars from thousands of Cubs fans and the chirping of birds at Maggie Daley Park. All you’ll be missing is a Chicago-style hot dog.
The VR program is only one of the many tech-forward innovations built into the Conrad Chicago experience. The property aims to connect with the savvy luxury traveller whose smartphone is a constant companion. The integrated Conrad concierge app allows guests to check in and out, order room service, enter their rooms without a key, and it offers texting services between guests and hotel staff.
One more Conrad Chicago amenity is certain to help guests make decisions on which landmarks to see: There’s a luxury house car available to whisk them anywhere within a two-mile radius.
This story was originally published March 17, 2017.