The coronavirus pandemic continues to keep the prospect of a vacation remote for many.
For some would-be travelers, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies already have provided a welcome respite. Will VR/AR adoption—like so many other tech trends—be accelerated by the pandemic, and can they ever be a substitute for a real vacation?
The use of AR and VR in tourism is not new. Some people find them useful to get a pre-trip feel for a destination. So far, these technologies have been relegated to informational or marketing content rather than “travel experiences” in their own right. Yet, Ipsos data show widespread interest in these technologies for entertainment and travel experiences. Perhaps as VR and AR become more affordable and accessible, partnerships with destination, merchandise and hospitality brands can help virtual travel do much more to satisfy people’s wanderlust. Virtual travel can smooth out seasonal tourism peaks and preserve over-toured landmarks.
Media and entertainment companies like National Geographic are creating amazing virtual travel content today. People can experience this content at home, in groups in museums and other locations. And, well, it’s really cool.
The central challenge for virtual travel is literally the idea of “being there.” VR only provides an audiovisual experience and cannot deliver the smells, tastes, physical sensations, nor the spontaneity to interact with locals and wander off the beaten track that are essential to the travel experience. It can’t fully recreate the sea breeze of a two-week beach holiday, or the altitudes of a Machu Picchu mountain trek. Of course, VR has some upsides. “Getting there” is as simple as putting on your headset. You’ll never get jet lag or Montezuma’s Revenge. The weather will always cooperate.
Brand partnerships could help complete these experiences and further adoption. Media companies could team up with food kits or delivery services to provide a tasting course to complement virtual journeys. Tours could offer T-shirts and gifts to commemorate the visits. Some of these “4D” experiences already exist in museums and theme parks, but these other strategies could help propel VR and AR travel further into the mainstream. And did we mention it’s cool?