Rest.co.il, Israel’s leading restaurant site, recently announced the introduction of a virtual tour creation solution for restaurant owners. Virtual tours, commonly used by real estate agents to showcase properties online, are essentially 3D photos which allow end-users to explore real-world locations via a web browser in an immersive fashion. The virtual tour functionality, which will be offered to the 6,000+ restaurants listed on Rest, will allow users to gain a better understanding of the physical appearance and layout of restaurants prior to booking/visiting.
Virtual tours have been distributed on the web for years but have traditionally been expensive to produce. The expense has resulted from the need for special equipment and/or professional photographers being required to visit the client location. However, proprietary technology developed by Quiksee, the Israeli startup which is powering Rest’s virtual tour creation solution, removes these constraints by allowing restaurant owners to create their own virtual tours. All that is required is a simple video capturing device and access to a computer. (A steady hand is also recommended to create a high quality virtual tour.)
Globally, there are numerous companies offering virtual tour solutions similar to Quiksee. However, these companies are generally reliant upon professional photographers. A good example of one such service is Massachusetts-based Everyscape, which provides high quality virtual tours with a team that ‘digitally architects’ a client’s physical location. Quicksee is potentially disruptive to companies like Everyscape as it eliminates the need for professional photographers. But presumably there is some risk of low quality virtual tours diminishing end-user utility.
For Rest, which has been part of Yellow Pages Israel (a division of the GPM Group) since it was acquired in 2006, there is a clear incentive to seek differentiation in a market where directory services are increasingly marginalized by the major search engines. While Rest will soon be introducing more advanced features, including “click-a-table” functionality and audio overlays, it will be difficult to stave off Google’s aggressive effort to capture the lion’s share of local business advertising. Google’s intention to meet this goal by leveraging the Google Maps platform has become abundantly clear following the introduction of Android 2.0, which includes a free GPS service with seamless Maps integration.
Given the ubiquity of video capturing devices, and the intuitive virtual tour creation process made possible by Quiksee’s technology, it will be interesting to see the rate at which the owners of Rest-listed restaurants embrace this new service offering. Restaurant owners have a reputation for being less than forward-thinking when it comes to adopting new technologies that help them market their offerings more effectively, even when these technologies are made available for free. And compelling as the ‘local’ opportunity is in theory, some VCs baulk at the idea of financing tech companies addressing the local business market because it has for some time now been long on promise but short on delivery. The cost of customer acquisition is high but the lifetime value of a customer is low. That having been said, this market is rapidly evolving, and as we transition into an era of ubiquitous connectivity, attitudes may change on both the small business and the investor side of the equation.