Road Warrior

Virtual vacations pull out the stops to compete with the real thing

Harriet Baskas, Special to CNBC
Source: Start VR

Forget the brochures, tour books—or even your friends' social media boasts about the fabulous time they're having on the beach of some scenic far-flung location.

A growing list of airlines and vacation spots are courting visitors with virtual reality (VR) vacation experiences that offer digital options that nearly rival the real thing.

Some packages include panoramic videos that can usually be viewed online, via YouTube and Facebook. Others require apps and special viewers like Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard.

If nothing else, VR can be a time-saver for travelers, said Bjorn Hanson, professor of hospitality and tourism at New York University's Tisch Center. "They can know what to expect and can allocate time to those activities they would like to visit at the destination."

While arguably not as good as the real thing, virtual trips "can help give people a more immersive sense of a destination, so they may then want to go and experience it firsthand themselves," said Sebastian Naylor, online marketing director for Lonely Planet.

Potential destinations range from Connecticut's Mohegan Sun casino and entertainment resort, to Las Vegas, British Columbia and the South Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia. All of them have VR experiences they hope will transform viewers into visitors.