We love hotels and we love tech. So if Marriott Hotels' is getting into virtual reality, we're there.
Its last venture into VR involved blowing fans in your face while showing footage from the top of a skyscraper. Its latest, VR Postcards, is three short films shot in the Andes, Beijing and at Rwanda's first ice cream shop, and altogether smarter and more effective. And, yes, you can have it delivered straight to your room, in the case below. Or you can download it from Milk VR, Samsung's preposterously-named shop for Gear VR.
This is what you view the films on, if you go for the room service option - there are 150 of these cases in the Marriott Park Lane and 225 in its NYC counterpart. It's a free service, although obviously you'll need to pay for a room first. But you can get it rather less expensively here.
The movies are all about two minutes long, which as long as anyone really wants to look at VR, let's face it, and were shot on a rig using three Red digital movie cameras facing first forward and then back, with the results stitched together seamlessly by London's Oscar-winning (for Gravity) special FXperts The Framestore.
The shorts are all very simply shot, with a static viewpoint that you can look around as you see fit, while a traveller gives a short monologue about themselves and where they are. One is a lady who likes to journey to new places alone to test herself, one a gallery owner looking for new art and one an icecream shop owner from New York who has set up a shop in a village in Rwanda.
The results are meditative, gentle and genuinely interesting, with none of the whizz-bang special effects you expect from VR.
The one in Rwanda is perhaps the most interesting of all, and I happened to bump into its star, Alexis Gallivan at Marriott's launch. Her New York shop Blue Marble makes organic, locally-sourced, artisan (etc) ice cream, but Alexis has a background in international development, so perhaps it's not entirely surprising that Blue Marble now has a branch in Rwanda, at the invite of locals who met her partner at the Sundance film festival.
Although it is still fairly surprising, let's be honest.
The way her film is shot is different to the others in that Alexis is actually sat behind you, in VR terms, delivering her speech. That's because the film opens on some local drummers doing their thing, but it's easily possible to imagine someone watching the whole thing not realising there's a virtual person talking to them, as opposed to a voiceover. As Alexis tells it, it was slightly fortunate she was able to be filmed at all.
"The team actually had the part of their luggage delayed with the rig for their cameras in it… but couldn't wait for it to arrive," Alexis recalls. "So I said, 'well, there's a prison nearby with a workshop, maybe they could make one." She smiles, "And they did!"
The films do little more than let you look around at an unfamiliar landscape and hear a little story, and they're to advertise an upscale hotel chain, but Marriott deserves some credit here; the results are little works of art. They also point towards ways in which VR could one day be used in rather longer, documentary form, although at present the costs are likely to be prohibitive.
I also spoke to Karen Olivares, Marriott's senior director of brand marketing, and while she was cagey about the costs of shooting. Now, on the one hand, she did say it was, "No more than a normal film," but on the other hand, the cost of "a normal film" shot for promotional purposes for Marriott Hotels is likely to be what the lay person would call, "crap tons of loot." Even so, impressive.