Virgin’s holiday laboratories ‘to harness power of social media’

Virgin Holidays is to open the first of two paperless ‘holiday laboratories’ this weekend, giving customers the opportunity to create their own holidays on giant screens and iPads.

The first of the new-look retail outlets will open within House of Fraser at Bluewater shopping centre in Kent on Saturday. The second will open in a standalone shop in the Meadowhall Centre in Sheffield on July 8.

Both stores will be paperless, with no brochures and a focus on video content and imagery to inspire customers, who will be able to “pull together” itineraries using motion capture – technology that records their movements – and take away the results in digital format to browse further at home.

The holiday laboratories will feature “multi-sensory” environments including textured flooring, mini putting greens, mood lighting to reflect different times of day, and scents to recreate the sensation of being on holiday.

Customers will also be able to have a photo taken against a ‘green screen’ after booking, so they can share details of their holiday on social media.

Mark Anderson, customer and sales director, said: “Our holiday laboratories have been designed with one purpose – to harness the latest technology and the increasingly powerful influence of social media to create something really different on the high street.

“As our retail network has grown, we’ve increasingly seen the need to put ‘play’ at the heart of the buying experience and these two stores are the logical conclusion of that process.”

The Bluewater store will also include a Disney area, with a space for digital research and a dressing-up box for kids.

Hugh Wood, vice-president and managing director of Disney Destinations International, said: “We are always looking for new and exciting ways to interact with our customers and this new offering from Virgin Holidays will bring the Walt Disney World and Disney Cruise Line brands to life in a magical way that enriches the customer booking experience.”

The new stores add to an expansion of Virgin Holidays’ retail estate, which will consist of 110 outlets, including temporary pop-ups, by mid-summer.

Other operators and agents including Kuoni and Abercrombie & Kent have also opened new-style stores that exploit modern technology. Thomas Cook opened its first concept store in Leeds last year.

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