Try before you travel — Kayak launches virtual reality exploration tool

The practice of trying before buying is coming to travel booking with virtual reality in tow. This week, Kayak launched the new Kayak VR, an app for Google Daydream that allows travelers to “visit” a location before booking it.

Kayak calls the new VR app a way to “test drive” a city from home, both to choose a location before booking a flight and to find out what to see once you get there. The app pairs 360 visual content with an audio tour of the different landscapes. As well as exploring local hotspots, the tool also allows users to virtually explore hotels.

Inside Daydream, Kayak VR offers a few different ways to explore. One, virtual travelers can use the trackpad to move around the scene while listening to that audio tour. Or, another view option is to use the app’s stereophonic sound, a mode that adapts to the where you are looking within the scene.

Exploring new locations remotely is a popular use for virtual reality, but Kayak pairs that exploration with travel tips as well as travel trends related to the area. Inside Kayak VR, onscreen information will tell viewers what landmark they are looking at, as well as details. Unlike surfing edited Instagram shots, the app gives travelers an idea of the scale and, well, that 360 look behind the actual landmark may offer an idea of tourist-filled the destination is.

The app is the travel giant’s first foray into VR. And as a travel platform, the app is designed for pre-exploration, not to serve as a replacement for actually being there. “But, let’s get this straight,” the company writes in the announcement. “Kayak VR is just a research tool that lets you try a city on for size before booking. Because nothing beats actually touching down in a new city and experiencing it for yourself.”

The app launched with two cities to start with — Venice, Italy, and Kathmandu, Nepal — on Google Play. As the first prototype of the app, that destination list will likely expand if the app sees success.

Kayak VR joins the platform’s list of different tech tools for travel, including the group trip planner, Trip Huddle, along with a recent feature to look for claims for delayed flights. Kayak also has Desktop Escape, an app that explores destinations through photos.