Where in the world would you go if you could go anywhere? The ‘if’ in the common question entails a lot of factors: many of us lack either the money or the time (or both) to travel to all our dream destinations, and some of us have physical inabilities or health restrictions that stop us from fulfilling our travel-related dreams.
On some level, Jaajo Linnonmaa gives people a chance to chase these dreams as the host of the Finnish version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? On top of being seen on TV, he’s a well-known radio host and a serial entrepreneur. At Slush 2015, he tried on VR glasses for the first time and was well impressed. Disappointed to find out that not much content was available at the time, he decided it was time to change the state of things and, at the same time, bring travel dreams just that little bit closer to reality.
Today, Donna Kivirauma is the CEO of Linnonmaa’s brainchild: Virtual Traveller, an online platform for sharing and viewing 360-degree videos from fascinating places in all corners of the world.
“Jaajo started out wanting to bring the world to people who, for whatever reason, can’t go see it for themselves,” Kivirauma explains. “But as the idea grew, various other applications came up.”
They did, indeed.
Passion on top of passion
After building a team and receiving an injection of external funding, Virtual Traveller partnered up with Finnair. The deal means that content producers are rewarded with frequent flyer points – one point per each view with no upper limit whatsoever. Another partnership, to be announced in January, will be with technology giant Samsung.
Kivirauma notes that 360-degree cameras and VR glasses are becoming increasingly inexpensive, making contributing to Virtual Traveller possible for many more people. As the scope of the content grows, anyone with a decent internet connection can jump on an adventure pretty much anywhere in the world, either with a local or a traveller.
On top of travel enthusiasts, Virtual Traveller provides opportunities to destination marketers. Popular tourist cities can make use of the platform to introduce less-travelled paths, as they try to spread tourism and lessen the burden on the most common, overcrowded stomping grounds. For locals, Virtual Traveller is a way of showing off hidden gems and unique things about cultures and environments.
In short, Virtual Traveller is a combination of its founder’s and CEO’s personal favourites.
“Everyone has to find their personal passion that’s based upon a purpose, the ‘why’ of what they’re doing,” Kivirauma tells. “Jaajo wanted to bring the world to people, and I’ve always been passionate about positively connecting people so that they can understand and appreciate each other.”
To be able to serve as many people as possible, Virtual Traveller is free for content providers and viewers, and the money comes instead from partnerships, collaborations and travel-related advertising. In order to reach different language groups, content providers can use any language they wish.
The 13-strong Virtual Traveller team has also built connections in a pilot with a Finnish school, enabling kids to share their everyday life with peers from other cultures. Kivirauma emphasises the importance of education in the process she calls ‘global healing’.
“There’s so much misunderstanding in the world right now. Giving opportunities to tackle that is what motivates us and drives us forward.”
360-degree storytelling is, in Kivirauma’s view, a growing phenomenon. With the camera pointing everywhere, even the person filming can spot new things in hindsight.
“360 virtual reality isn’t mainstream yet, but it’s headed that way, as it’s a great media for engaging people. You can surprise people time and time again, because there’s always another angle.”
Kivirauma has no trouble thinking of a time when she would’ve loved to record her travel experience in 360 degrees.
“Last summer, my husband and I went to Greece on our 10-year anniversary and got remarried on the beach. My husband didn’t want to have a 360-degree camera with us, but later he was sorry we didn’t bring it. We found so many incredible spots, and now we could feel like we’re standing in the same places again and relive the moment.”