Baker City, Oregon (OTEC) — Eastern Oregon is a popular vacation destination and tourism is one of the top three industries for the four-county area that Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative (OTEC) serves. The Cooperative, along with providing safe & reliable electric service for the area, is involved with economic development and they know that their local businesses are hurting as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fortunately, the Cooperative already has a project in progress that’s going to jumpstart economic development and attract future visitors – virtual tours with 360-degree video and virtual reality.
“The lack of tourism is really hurting a lot of our businesses, so we’re looking at that impact and how to help them,” said Lea Gettle, Manager of Administration and Strategic Services for OTEC. “Because we already started our PlaceVR projects, we can offer people an experience online, just like all of the big museums and tourist attractions are doing.”
Virtual Tours with 360-Degree Video
PlaceVR is the name of the division at Golden Shovel Agency that is producing a series of 360-degree video and virtual reality experiences for OTEC to attract business investment, new residents, and tourists to Eastern Oregon.
Golden Shovel Agency has been leading the way in the utilization of 360-degree video and virtual reality for economic development and workforce attraction, and is now helping organizations like Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative attract interest to their communities while travel restrictions and COVID-19 concerns keep people from visiting in person.
“We really think our virtual tours are going to be an important piece for attracting visitors once everything opens up,” said Gettle. “We’re hoping that it’s going to give people a taste of the beauty and amenities that our region offers so that they’ll plan their next vacation here.”
The 360-degree videos, called Familiarization Tours, put viewers in the middle of scenes that allow them to experience the vastness of the landscape; get a feel for downtown thoroughfares and amenities; and step inside businesses and attractions to see what they’re really like.
Brain Activity Mimics Being in a New Place
The immersive nature of 360-degree video creates an intense experience for the viewer that fires the same brain activity as if the person were really in a new place. The result is that people remember what they’ve seen and heard, and they’re open to taking action – like booking a trip to visit in person.
Local tourism partners have shifted their marketing strategy as they think forward to a post-pandemic future. They have previously been successful in promoting Eastern Oregon to international audiences, but now they’re shifting those marketing dollars to states and regions that are closer to home and OTEC is doing its part to help with these efforts.
“People aren’t going to be comfortable traveling by plane and want to avoid crowds. We think more people will want to stay local and instead choose activities like camping and mountain biking,” said Gettle.
Not only does OTEC believe that their 360-degree videos are going to be a powerful tactic to attract post-pandemic tourism, they see opportunities to attract new residents who suddenly have the opportunity to work from anywhere because of changing attitudes about remote work.
“With the recent shift to remote work for many people, more people have the choice to live where they want to because the location of their employer doesn’t matter as much anymore,” said Gettle. “We want to attract that workforce and let them know not only that we have room for them here, but if your dream has always been to open a business, our community will also be supportive of your aspirations and ideas.”
For many, relocating to Baker, Grant, Union or Harney counties would be a dream come true. Outdoor spaces for hiking, mountain biking, hunting, fishing and camping are minutes away. In the winter, the region is a haven for snow sports like skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling. These are exactly the kind of activities that you can experience with the 360-degree tours.
You Feel Like You’re Really There
“When you put on the VR headset, you can look all around you to take in the Eastern Oregon scenes without distractions,” said Aaron Brossoit, CEO of Golden Shovel Agency. “You’ll find yourself bumping down a slope on a mountain bike; taking in the downtown action; and watch the seasons change from the vantage point of a large valley. While you’re experiencing the scenes in virtual reality, your brain will be responding as if you are really in a new place. It’s this intense brain activity that is the power behind 360-degree video and virtual reality.”
Brossoit speaks at conferences all over the country, educating economic development leaders about how 360-degree video and virtual reality can be used to remove barriers of time and distance to reach more people.
“Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative recognized that they need to be innovative in order to get the attention of people who would be open to their message,” said Brossoit. “As early adopters of immersive technology for economic development, they’ve demonstrated that they’re progressive and now their decision will pay off as they work to stimulate economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic.”
Watch the videos and learn more about OTEC’s economic development efforts at economicdevelopment.otec.coop.
About the cooperative
Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative (OTEC) is a not-for-profit, member-owned electric cooperative that serves nearly 60,000 residents in four counties in Eastern Oregon. Headquartered in Baker City, OTEC has district offices in Burns, John Day and La Grande.