For the first time, hundreds of millions of consumers around the world can watch 360-degree, virtual reality videos on Facebook via their own devices. It has helped that some travel brands have already spent millions to showcase their cities and landscapes on this new media platform.

The first 360-degree/virtual reality travel videos on Facebook span five continents and since January, National Geographic, GoPro, Seaview 360, Discovery, Weather Channel, and Tourism Australia have rolled-out about 24 of these videos for their Facebook pages. Each of them has more than three million views with Tourism Australia, one of the first destination marketing organizations to put its 360/virtual reality videos on Facebook, getting 4.6 million views to date on seven of its 17 such videos that are on Facebook and another 1.6 million views across YouTube and its consumer website Australia.com. Australia.com’s Facebook page has about 6.8 million likes.

Tourism Australia’s videos are tied to its $40 million global marketing campaign that launched in January and made Chris Hemsworth its frontman. The destination’s 360/virtual reality videos aim to effectively channel what makes Australia special. Travelers can navigate through the videos themselves and get to the heart of unique experiences they could have throughout the country, such as kayaking through Katherine Gorge in the country’s Northern Territory or playing with baby kangaroos on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island.

“[These videos] aren’t just Tourism Australia’s assets,” said John O’Sullivan, Tourism Australia’s managing director. “They’re an industry development tool and a sale tool for consumers and trade partners. We’re encouraging travel agents and our other partners to use them as well. We especially saw the potential of having such content available too for frontline travel agents to also share these experiences with people considering Australia.”

Bringing Virtual Reality to Consumers

Facebook initially launched these videos in September 2015 as 360-degree videos on desktop, where consumers could click and drag the screen 360 degrees to view all perspectives of the video.

In November, Facebook brought these videos to mobile iOS and Android devices and made available on its Oculus Rift as well as Samsung Gear virtual headsets. Before these releases, travel brands were demoing these videos at trade conferences or at in-destination meetup events for consumers and were only viewed by people attending these events. Putting virtual reality in the hands of consumers clearly changes the game for brands and makes their costly and time-consuming production efforts more worthwhile.

“The videos help the consumer to consider places they otherwise would not have considered because they were able to immerse themselves in a place and get a feel for it,” said O’Sullivan. “They also help us convey that Australia isn’t a place you do in just one trip. You come back another time and do something different and these videos can help you decide what you want to do.”

Facebook Foray Into Virtual Reality

Facebook showed it was serious with virtual reality when it acquired Oculus in 2014 for $2 billion and these latest video and headset releases only tease at the direction the company will take the technology.

“We’re just at the beginning of how 360 and VR can connect us to a world that we might otherwise not have a chance to visit,” said Paul Beddoe-Stephens, Facebook’s partner product lead on the 360 videos, in a Facebook blog post.

Tourism Australia, as with other travel brands, claims that engagement is the key metric for measuring success. Its on-site engagement has soared from these videos; consumers now spend an average of eight minutes and 30 seconds on Australia.com, a record high time for the site, amounting to a 64 percent increase in on-site engagement. It’s unclear, though, how many people who watch the videos on Facebook migrate to Australia.com which O’Sullivan said is the “main call to action for the overall campaign” where travelers are enticed to book trips.

O’Sullivan said the videos have been most popular in the U.S., one of the key long-haul markets at the core of this campaign. The UK has shown a strong response with the organization’s trade partners and it expects China to see stronger demand for the videos. Australia.com’s Chinese site, for example, lets Chinese consumers download the videos to watch on their own devices.

Load times are often slower with these videos because of the technology involved and they’re more costly to produce. But the pay-off for brands could be significant if partners like travel agents show virtual reality videos to all their clients or event planners gain interest in doing a site visit from exploring a 360-degree video in their offices.

Below are two examples of these Facebook videos from Tourism Australia and National Geographic of a tour of Australia’s 12 Apostles and a helicopter ride above a volcano in Siberia:

360: Get up close to the 12 Apostles along Victoria’s iconic Great Ocean Road

Posted by Australia.com on Wednesday, March 16, 2016

360° Tour of a Volcanic Eruption in KamchatkaAt over 15,500 feet (4,724 meters) tall, Klyuchevskoy is one of the tallest and most active volcanoes on the planet. Take a flying 360° tour to the rim of a spectacular eruption.

Posted by National Geographic on Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Photo Credit: A screenshot from one of Tourism Australia's 360-degree/virtual reality videos showing the 12 Apostles along the iconic Great Ocean Road in Australia's Victoria state. Tourism Australia