Tourism and metavers: towards a generalization of virtual travel?

The metaverse is occupying an increasingly important place in the media landscape. While some position themselves in a cautious or insensitive manner, others see this technological development as an opportunity to develop new offerings.

Tourism is a sector that is largely evolving according to information and communication technologies, so it is very relevant to question the way it could integrate this virtual universe. And it is since the announcement of the creation of the Meta group by Mark Zuckerberg that this term has spread massively in the world. The metaverse can be defined as a series of virtual spaces, persistent, shared, indexed in the real world and accessible through 3D interaction.

So how could the metaverse take over tourism, a practice that requires physical travel?

Do tourism and technology go hand in hand?

There is a clear correlation between the evolution of tourism and that of technologies, which always go hand in hand. Indeed, from automated reservation centers in the 1970s to the domestication of the Internet in the late 1990s, technology has always been infused into tourism to bring forward new practices.

The metaverse is part of this evolution of the Internet that uses increasingly immersive technologies to offer phygital experiences, that is, where the boundaries between the real and the virtual are becoming more permeable.

Whether in museums, national parks or heritage sites, the health crisis has also enabled many players to expand and maintain the use of technology tools to provide virtual reality tours. The Fly Over Zone application not only provides an exploration of World Cultural Heritage sites, but also enables the digital recovery of damaged sites.

Web giant Amazon has launched “Amazon Explore” to literally “travel the world virtually”. This commercial part is an interactive live streaming service that allows you to discover new places from your computer. If this offering is still in its infancy, with a beta release, it’s a safe bet that this virtual tour service will evolve to offer even more immersive formats.

In the field of tourism, Asia is a pioneer with already very advanced proposals, such as the “Seoul Metaverse” project, which aims to become the first major city in the world to enter the metaverse, with a tourist route linking the main attractions of city ​​tour.

MoyaLand, the first French virtual tourism universe

But it is in France that we find one of the most successful projects with MoyaLand: a tourism virtual universe, built as a virtual and immersive artistic reproduction with a tourist office, museums, an airport, a historic center where residents and tourists can virtually evolve through their avatars.

Other tourism players could follow, as by 2026, according to US company Gartner, 25% of people will spend at least an hour a day in the metaverse. So how will these people experience tourism in this virtual environment?

The metaverse to encourage travel

There are two main tendencies to define the tourism experience: the first relates to the sequence of the process with a transformation of the world in knowledge, the second relates to the moment of life with a central place for hedonism and the sense of success . If tourism by definition requires physical movement, there is in fact a contradiction with the touristic experiences offered by the metaverse that can nevertheless replace it, but above all evoke the desire to travel.

Remember that virtual reality is an immersive environment created using a technological device that provides the user with digitally created sensations such as seeing, hearing, touching and even smelling. Therefore, to awaken their senses in the virtual tourist areas of the metaverse, users will have to be equipped with visual, sound, haptic (of the sensory sensor type), tactile and olfactory devices. Apart from the purchase costs, the use of these new devices questions the perception of the senses that humans have with their environment.

By reproducing a touristic decor, the metaverse forms a whole between the device, the user who places himself in the shoes of a tourist and the other spectators. Although the experience is virtual, the senses are put to good use by stimulating certain situations that are currently desired but not accessible.

By allowing for an immersive practice, the virtual reality headset or haptic sensors would make it possible to experience things hitherto elusive and reconnect with sensory experience. Through his avatar, the user of the metaverse can embody a tourist by virtually constructing a tour route, interacting with other avatars and therefore imagining what they feel, stimulating what Giacomo Rizzolatti calls mirror neurons.

Social and environmental constraints

Imitated, reproduced or simulated, all that remains is that travel and vacations represent tourist practices that represent a break from everyday life. For some, these moments are also an opportunity to find their loved ones or to engage in activities that are difficult to do in the normal course of life. Observing animals on safari, discovering archaeological sites or practicing a foreign language are activities that produce unique physical and spiritual sensations, essential and different from those produced virtually by the devices of the metaverse.

Moreover, the metaverse, which in itself is a technological evolution of the Internet, is not yet complete. It requires financial investment and the construction of a regulatory framework to regulate user behavior.

Still a long way to go

Because when Mark Zuckerberg wants to create a virtual and alternative world in which users can also travel, we must not lose sight of the fact that it is also user data that will be used. And if some see the metaverse as a solution to avoid flying and lean towards sustainable tourism, the digital pollution it creates could well be in the opposite direction of virtuous tourism.

Even if tourism in the metaverse cannot replace an outdoor tourism experience, certain tourism professionals could benefit from disclosing sites that are not easily accessible or ignored by tourists, who will discover them virtually.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Naïma Aïdi, PhD student of information and communication sciences, affiliated with the Dicen-IdF laboratory. Tourism and Smart Tourism, Gustave Eiffel University

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