Let’s go back in time. It’s the early months of 2020 and all hell has broken loose. Of course, it’s COVID-19, a global pandemic where a nasty virus makes people very very sick.
Everything was on lockdown and people couldn’t step out of their homes. This meant canceling existing holiday and travel packages that they’d been planning and saving up for years. Although there were worse life-taking dangers out there at that time, it still hurt.
The travel and tourism industry lost huge numbers. Some customers were lucky enough to get a refund on their cancellation, some weren’t. You know, fine prints on the TnC screw us all.
Anyway, a year later while the travel restrictions were still an on-and-off situation, with the advent of VR and AR technologies, the travel industry transformed.
Modern problems require modern solutions, hence virtual tourism came to life.
Now people could travel to places around the world sitting right at home. And this worked as a solution to an unnoticeable problem of overtourism. According to Ralph Hollister, Travel & Tourism Analyst at Global Data, there’s potential in VR to stand in for experiences that help in preserving heritage.
Challenges of Virtual Tourism
VR travel does make it easier to bring places otherwise inaccessible to people who may be physically unable to travel or ever travel in their lifetime.
But essentially, there’s one challenge; Allowing users the control they have always had. The thing about virtual tourism is that we see a world that someone was able to film and engineer. Nothing outside of that.
After all, we’re all adventurers, risk-takers, and explorers.
Apart from that, the other smaller challenge is that the tech doesn’t feel like it’s fully ready yet. VR headsets are still expensive, and wearing them for more than 30 minutes can induce nausea.
However, researchers are working on improving the tech and bringing a more immersive experience to the virtual travel sector so that these problems can be eliminated.
Where it Excels
More than half of 2022 has passed and physical travel since 2021 has become moderate, which in a regular conversation would mean that people no longer need virtual tourism or virtual travel. Not really.
The global virtual tourism market is expected to grow up to $24.10 billion by 2027.
Regardless of VR headset being expensive for most, the total combined cost of the headset and the virtual content still sums up to be much less than an actual physical holiday. You probably don’t need to plan and save for months, just teleport to Venice on a Sunday afternoon.
Trying Before Buying
Let’s be honest for a second here. Most of us aren’t the best at deciding where to eat tonight, let alone planning a travel destination. There is so much to choose from and the photos, videos, or reviews of different places just keep confusing you more.
In such a scenario, virtual tourism allows you to potentially travel to destinations ahead of time providing better context and knowledge.
This use case of virtual travel was recognized earlier than the pandemic in the name of travel planning.
Enhancing the Physical
Thanks to digital products like Google Lens and Google Translate, we now live in a world where you can travel anywhere in the world physically and translate any language, street signs, maps, guides, and menus on the go.
Another less appreciated product is Google Maps where you get AR functionality for navigation when you’re moving on foot.
Some best use cases
NASA coined a funny term back in 2010, ‘Digital Twin’, based on the practice of creating shuttle replicas for training and simulation purposes, ever since the 1960s. Today many hotels use digital twins to set expectations for guests and bring floorplans to life for potential guests.
While some hotels may opt for a video walkthrough, others go all out with 3D renderings of guestrooms and public areas. Both, in their own way, are great ways to allow potential guests to navigate and make a choice.
This also gives the hotel an opportunity to bring out its unique style and personality during the presentation (virtual tour), such as music, people from the staff, or a narrating voiceover. The whole concept makes it easier for guests to familiarize themselves with the ambiance of the property even before they’ve stepped foot in it.
Arriving at your destination and not knowing where to go can be irritating. Especially when you do not even know the language to ask for directions. To solve this problem, the Google Maps app has an AR/Live View feature where you can use augmented reality to guide you when walking.
It uses the back camera of your smartphone to understand where you are and then superimposes directions for you to follow.
AR and VR inside a museum? No, it has nothing to do with items coming to life at night. The easiest use case is to offer detail and information about the pieces and items on display inside the museum.
Some museums are also using them to present the artist’s persona next to their art. The AR experience itself brings more visitors to the collection.
The AR/VR technology and market continue to get better with time and in applications such as virtual travel, it really excels contrary to what people may have thought a year ago. From making travel accessible as well to enhance your physical experience during travel, the AR/VR tech is really proving useful in re-igniting the tourism industry. It is, then, safe to say that virtual tourism is here to stay.