Christina Nobis: Virtual Reality and Travelers’ Decision-Making Process

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Student Talk is a series of interviews with students that have developed their thesis under my supervision at IUBH University of Applied Sciences on projects we have designed for MusicStats.org and that have achieved an outstanding performance.

The main purpose of Student Talk is to showcase talented students, support their professional digital trace, highlight their ideas and hopefully inspire new students.

This time the light shines at Christina Nobis. She developed an exiting project relating virtual reality and the decision making process of tourists.

Christina, the stage is yours!


INTERVIEW

1. MusicStats.org: Christina, tell us a bit about your life story, where you come from, what study program you attended, what are your passions and what are you doing at this stage in life.

I grew up in beautiful Rhineland (close to Cologne) and had always a great curiosity in everything people-related and creative. Those are perfect prerequisites for not knowing into what professional field you want to go – especially just after finishing high school. There is just so much to choose from. So I did what any reasonable person would do: Pack my bags and start traveling the world.

I started in New Zealand – which immediately became and is until today my home away from home. I worked and traveled for over half a year, before I decided to go back and do something with my curiosity for places, people and international relations.

I started my studies in International Tourism Management at IUBH in September of 2012. The next three and a half years were a wild ride. I learned a lot, got to know amazing people and lived another one and half years abroad: one year in Sydney for my studies, and another six months in New Zealand to gain some professional experience in tourism marketing. It was such an amazing experience – I am still in touch with my old employers today.

I have always followed my passions through travel, learning about and embracing new cultures. So, I continued to do so when choosing a master’s degree. I completed a program in international management and intercultural communications called Global MBA, which is a flagship program of Technische Hochschule Köln, University of Warsaw in Poland, Donbgei University of Finance and Economics in China and University of North Florida in Jacksonville. I lived and studied in all four of these countries with amazing people, which was a “once in a lifetime” experience. I gained a lot of insights of who I am as a person and what I can and cannot do.

I graduated in December 2017 and came back home to Germany, where I started to work in a media agency in Düsseldorf. Fast forward to this point in time: I am still here, doing great and continue to try learning as much as possible. I am working on media strategies and media plans to help our customers to achieve their most effective communication strategies.

2. MusicStats.org: You have developed a research thesis of exceptional quality. How would you describe your study (Please include research aim, when it took place, method, data collection and sample size)?

My study, which was conducted in spring 2016, investigated the influence of VR in tourism and marketing targeting older generations (baby boomers). Throughout the research, I first looked at relevant concepts in order to really understand what Virtual Reality really is. After doing so and to further explore the possibilities of VR, I set my research aim. The aim was to compare VR to more traditional promotional marketing tools, such as websites and brochures.

Therefore, I conducted an experiment in a travel agency, in which VR, websites and brochures were directly compared by presenting one hotel through the three mediums to a sample of 26 participants (14 female, 12 male) within the baby boomer generation. No participant had previous experience with VR and no knowledge of the hotel used in the experiment. During the experiment the results were collected with help of a questionnaire and a short exploratory interview question at the end of the 15-minute session with a participant.

Key findings are that VR is indeed a more efficient marketing tool. When tested against website and brochure, it scored best in almost all included scales. Incorporated scales are Ease of Use, Travel Intention, Telepresence, Usefulness of Technology and Trustworthiness.

3. Music Stats.org: What are the main applications of your research findings for society or the industry? And how would you suggest for researchers to advance in this topic?

The main outcome and bigger picture in this specific situation is the suggestion that it makes sense for tourism operators to invest in the future. When selling an experience (especially a completely new hotel or cruise etc.), it is crucial to find new and more interactive ways of doing so. It is not enough to show people a catalogue and a simple (sometimes even a non-mobile) website.

I am still of the opinion that Virtual Reality and everything connected to it (I also include AR here) is a massive opportunity for tourism businesses. My study clearly stated that the experience of looking and choosing a hotel through VR (instead of website or catalogue) had many advantages, including higher travel intentions, higher telepresence, higher usefulness to assist booking and higher trustworthiness. Ease of use was a discussion point.

As you can imagine, older people did find the way of using VR glasses not very easy. In addition, the technology (i.e. resolution) was not as advanced as today. So, I guess future researchers who want to get more insights into that topic, could research from a similar point of view as I did, but with enhanced technological scope. Also, it would be great to have a larger sample, just to confirm the results I got.

Moreover, one could look at different groups in society. In my case, I looked at baby boomers who I talked to in a travel agency. Of course, these are the people one oftentimes finds in a travel agency. However, one could look at younger people and find them either online (people who already own VR) or in youth travel agencies. There are for sure possibilities to research this age group.

Lastly, VR is an opportunity to bring our societies closer together. Right now, with the refugee crisis, there are things happening none of us can even imagine. Using VR as an educational tool and show people what is going on around the world, is a massive opportunity future researchers and startups should investigate. Especially in schools, VR would be a great advantage.

4. MusicStats.org: If you were to start all over again, what would you have done differently in your study?

If I were to start all over again, I would make this whole project bigger and calculate more time to get higher number of participants for the experiment. Due to the short time period of writing this thesis, I only had a week to run the experiment and collect answers. Thus, it was only a relatively low number of experiment participants. Therefore, it was rather not representative.

Also, I wrote my thesis two and a half years ago. Lots has happened during this time and there are even more very interesting developments I could have incorporated in the study (if I was to start right now!).

5. MusicStats.org: As you have achieved an exceptional performance writing your thesis, what are the main suggestions you would give to any students that is about to start or is already writing their thesis.

I guess my number one recommendation before anyone starts writing a thesis is: REALLY think about what interests you! And I mean a topic that you want to explore as much as somehow possible, because this is something you will do for the next three months non-stop. Of course, the next step is finding a professor who´s just as interested in the topic and wants to really help you develop your academic researching skills.

 

Source: Prof. Dr. Francisco Tigre Moura and Christina Nobis during thesis supervision meeting at IUBH University of Applied Sciences, Bad Honnef (Germany).

In the best-case scenario, you as a student try to develop and define a research process and all questions along the way will be answered by your prof. The result will be a good thesis and tons of knowledge you will have required once you have finished that thesis – knowledge and insights you only receive while actively writing an academic research.

Once you have decided what topic and what professor you want to work with, very important is a schedule you closely adhere to. Deadlines are VERY important. Since it´s a time span of three months, it´s easy to procrastinate, so you really need to hold yourself accountable and stay productive. Especially if you want to set up an experiment like I did, you need to appreciate the efforts it takes to get other players into the research.

In my case I really needed to put a lot of work into coordinating time-slots with the travel agency and then the technology provider. Setting the technology up was problematic as well since I worked with a startup that has never worked with a student on his or her Bachelor Thesis before. All this took a lot of time, which I did not foresee when I first started. Analyzing the results of the experiment was still an effort (SPSS is not my best friend); however, it was nothing compared to all the organizational aspects I had to handle.

6. MusicStats.org: How important is music in your life and what does it mean to you?

Music has always played a big part in my life. I started to play the piano at 5 years old and never really stopped. I listen to all kinds of music, from classical to rock to hip hop to RnB to pop and alternative. There´s very little I don´t listen to – the song just must grab me!

However, I am a very big fan of Musicals as well! I have visited shows on Broadway, the West End in London, in Sydney and of course all throughout Germany. I basically combined to of my passions: Music and Travel!

7. MusicStats.org: What were you listening to while writing your thesis? In addition, what would you suggest for anyone to listen while writing his or her research?

Personally, I can´t listen to English Music when I am writing in English. I always sing along in my head. Too many mistakes happen. If I am doing something where not much concentration is needed, this is fine. However, since writing a thesis presents a constant need for concentration, I either listened to classical music or nothing.

8. MusicStats.org: Finally, what are your next professional plans and how can employers find you?

For now, I am working at MediaCom as a media consultant. Something, I am pretty sure I want to complete in the future, is a trainee program. If I am doing so next year or a little further in the future, I don´t know yet. However, everyone can contact and find me on LinkedIn.

I am always open to new contacts or cool collaborations!

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