THE game-changing potential of virtual reality (VR) was the subject of a special event at Bournemouth University.

Tech experts have been working for years on the potential of VR but speakers said they needed to start convincing the public of its uses.

From giving potential customers a taste of a Caribbean cruise to allowing insurance assessors to inspect your house without being there, the event looked at the potential of the technology for marketing and business.

The annual Mike Warne event at the university is organised by final year marketing students, who invite industry experts to speak. It is organised with the support of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) South West.

Dean Johnson, head of innovation at Brandwidth and a pundit on the BBC, said the potential of VR was “incredible” but many of the wider public had little idea about it.

“There’s been three, almost four years, where the business side of things has just been talking to themselves,” he said.

“Now we’re getting to that point where everyone’s going ‘Hang on a minute, VR’s not as successful as everyone said’. That’s because we haven’t been telling everyone else about it.”

He said the potential for education and training was huge. “The statistics are incredible for retained information in VR – because right at the lowest level you retain 10 per cent of what you read, but at the top end you retain 80 per cent of what you’ve personally experienced and VR is the only way to feel as if you’re personally experiencing it.

“What better place to put that than in education or training?”

He said some companies were already using VR to immerse customers in an experience. “We’ve worked with Royal Caribbean. They have literally billion dollar liners and they want to give people an experience of what it’s like to be in that kind of place.

“They’re like huge floating hotels, now so you stick people in a VR headset and it’s like they’re there, going down the waterslide or in a ballroom or whatever it is, and it helps make that step a little bit closer to someone forking out however many thousand pounds it is to go on a cruise.”

Cathy White, founder of CEW Communications, is described as one of the “rising stars” of the tech industry. She said Google was “making a big push to get something like a billion people using VR within the next couple of years”.

“VR is very much going to be led by gaming and entertainment and porn – that is the big thing, the sex industry will do a hell of a lot for VR – but how do we then see that into being educational?

“How do we use it in order to get people to travel or buy property in a way that it’s going to have that critical mass of people actually using it?”

She said marketing and advertising on the internet generally were still quite unsophisticated after two decades of experience.

“When you think about the immersive world, how do create the marketing that will be effective, how do we police it? How do we think about the security side of things as well? I think at the moment for marketeers, you can have a bit of fun in terms of virtual reality but you have to create the experience rather than think about in it in terms of advertising.”

Mike Mallia, innovation and lab manager at LV=, told how the Dorset-based insurer was piloting several uses for the technology.

It has created an AR app using Microsoft’s HoloLens which it hopes will help get the best value from skilled workers. “We’ve built an app that allows claims assessors to go out to properties or businesses that have high premiums and they can assess the property by mapping out exactly what it looks like.

“You can plot a fire hazard in the room so that next year you can remember what that property looks like and you can say ‘Hang on a minute, there’s a fire hazard here from last year and you haven’t done anything about this so can this affect your premium?’ Equally, if there was a fire hazard marked and you do something about it, you can have a discount off your premium next year.”

It is trying HTC Vive’s VR technology to train customer service representatives (CSRs) to be more empathic. He said 99.8 per cent of CSRs had never been through a claim, but VR would allow them to experience being in a flooded home.

“We could actually put CSRs through that training and kick in the fight-flight mechanism and understand what customers go through at the point of need – so it goes to show the last thing they’re thinking about is their policy number or whether or not they have that box ticked that meant they were covered on this particular item. All they were thinking about is whether I was able to save individual items in that home.

“We had a demo of that built and we’re now going to put it into full training mode and see if it makes a difference.”

Brian Doidge, South West regional chair of CIM, said the final year marketing students who organised the event were well placed to see the potential of VR and AR.

“It’s not knew but it’s certainly emerging and I think it will be new in its commercial uses to more of us,” he said.

“Simulators have been around since the 1930s but for us those sorts of things are going to come along at a rate of knots.”