The first national lockdown prompted a 9.3% year-on-year downturn for the travel industry. As the sector attempts to recover it’s not surprising companies like Facebook (sorry, Meta) are attempting to fill that travel void. Sam Bailey asks, "Could VR put old fashion travel agents out of business?"
Platforms like GlobetrotterVR are making giant leaps in the access and quality of virtual sightseeing; to the extent you can take an afternoon stroll around the streets of Barcelona, Edinburgh, Berlin, on your lunch break. These, of course, contain huge limitations. Specific boundaries, a guided tour as opposed to free reign, and only specific cities and tours are currently available. However for those sightseeing fanatics among us, this scratches that travel itch. Additionally, VR travel creates a great standard for both sustainable and accessible tourism, one that is yet to be achieved in traditional travel.
So is this the beginning of a new realm of travel and tourism, or is it simply a bi-product of the pandemic, soon to be sidelined as travel reopens?
I think suggesting the idea that travel will become second to virtual and augmented reality is a bold, and insensible notion. However will it soon have the ability to match the experiences of real travel? I don’t doubt it. Not just utilised for gaming, it has been alluded to that the Metaverse will have many uses from shopping, education, work and entertainment. Therefore, it is not a stretch to assume business travel will significantly decline with a wide implementation of the Metaverse?
With AR platforms being accessible to those with access to data, is the Metaverse going to deepen the divides between those with and without in our society? Although it can be very expensive, traditional travel has evolved in the 21st Century. With backpacking, van-life and solo travel resurging, travel is growing to become more widely accessible. As well as a greater understanding of disability and special needs, tourism is the most attainable it has ever been. Moreover, with platforms like NomadHer, on the Tech Talks podcast this week, there are people working to make travel safer for the most vulnerable members of society.
I think a class-divide within the Metaverse is a real risk. You only need to look at the pressures placed on parents to give their children money for the latest ‘skin’ on Fortnite. This technology has the ability to open the world up to a mass audience, or cut it off behind a paywall. If widely available the implementation of the Metaverse could actually encourage people to get away, to holiday and tour the world after getting a taste of what’s out there. Although the pandemic has led to a worldwide surge for advanced virtual and augmented reality, it has equally led to an intense desire to visit all the places we have missed out on in the last two years.
Rather than declaring the rise in virtual tech universes will out-date and surpass traditional travel, I think it is safe to say that both are going to increase in popularity in the wake of this pandemic. Very few of us will travel to all the destinations available in our lifetime, but even the most impressive technologies cannot take away from the feeling of visiting an ancient monument or new city. As cool as the Metaverse is, I think for the time being tourism is safe.