“Let’s be clear, the metaverse will never be a substitute for tourism.says Sophie Lacour, head of the Innovation Tourism Lab chair at Esthua (University of Angers). But it could be a very interesting addition. » An opinion shared by tourism professionals. “The metaverse will be an evolution of the market, but it cannot replace the travel experience, at least not in my life”said Tariq Al Mutawa, Thailand’s country manager for Emirates airline.
The latter has developed a virtual reality experience compatible with Meta’s Oculus headset. Anyone can – for free – take a ride in business class, discover the interior of the cockpit of an airplane and “experience the luxury of service to a first class passenger”. Does the idea no longer appeal to you, or does it even leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth? The virtual offer also allows, more prosaically, to accurately visualize the location of his seat thanks to a 3D representation of the cabin.
“Seemingly the metaverse is the antithesis of travel”points out Max Starkov, American tourism consultant. Traveling is about pleasing your five senses: taste, smell, touch, hearing and sight. At best, the metaverse allows you to experience two: hearing and seeing. So how can it affect tourism? One thing the metaverse and travel have in common is that both are social. »
He believes in three ways to bring the two worlds together. On the one hand, through virtual and hybrid events, such as concerts. On the other hand, to facilitate professional meetings – one of the paths the French Accord group is currently taking with Microsoft. Finally, to explore very distant or now inaccessible destinations. Like a place that is closed to the public or whose access is becoming more and more restricted. In this regard, we can imagine completely virtual visits from the bottom of your sofa or a more hybrid system, where you still go to the countryside. “Tourism is a climate, smells, people, a language… If you can’t visit a place like Machu Picchu in Peru or the Taj Mahal in India, you can still imagine traveling there. But once you’re in the area, discover the historic site through a virtual reality headset or an immersive room. We still enjoy the local atmosphere”says Sophie Lacour.
Virtual tourism, real interest
A study revealed by Dynata looked at the metaverse. Title New experience economy conducted with 11,000 consumers in 11 countries, it found that 40% of those surveyed said they were interested in a virtual journey. 51% even said they were tempted by a virtual visit to a museum, art gallery or exhibition. Another survey conducted by Accenture in 35 countries with 24,000 respondents confirms the general public’s interest in these virtual immersions.
We find that 50% of people are interested in buying a travel experience such as a hotel stay or an activity in the metaverse. This figure even rises to 55% for millennials. On the other hand, it is only 29% for baby boomers. A trend that ties in with the fact that 47% of French people want to travel more environmentally friendly, according to a study by Booking.com.
Because we don’t want to fly, because we prefer to stay in France during a pandemic, as a solution to a disability, a tight budget or to avoid the fatigue of long journeys as we get older… The reasons for choosing virtual travel can be many .
Much more than “virtual tours”
“In my opinion, the metaverse will not necessarily find its interest by visiting emblematic places in 3D, but rather intervene around the journey itself, assures Sophie Lacour. This makes it possible to create advanced websites, which make it easier to prepare your trip by detailing the rooms of a hotel, the experiences offered around the destination, etc. »
Specifically, a hotel – or a hotel chain – will buy a plot in a metaverse, if possible by the sea (virtual) or near a very busy place (nightclub, luxury brand store, etc.) to have passage. “Just like in real life, you have to pick the right location in the metaversenotes Sophie Lacour. It will then be necessary to recreate the hotel by giving it quite a similar appearance and proposing within the reconstruction of the different types of rooms, the restaurant area, the lounge, etc. And provide an overview of additional products, such as excursions. » In this space, the hotel will also be able to create, animate and manage its community by hosting regular events. “Attending a small concert in the metaverse to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of your last vacation is still more fun than receiving a promotional mailing”says Sophie Lacour.
All this is still very virtual and fantasized. Even Sophie Lacour admits it. She advises Advanced Tourism, a company specialized in tourism forecasting, artificial intelligence and robotics. When she invites tourism specialists not to wait to try the metaverse, she urges them to limit their investments. “Today it is still very expensive to start because the technology is not yet fully developed. That will undoubtedly be the case in five years, but not before. Then you have to choose which metaverse you want to focus on. There are 25 known, 150 moderately developed and several thousand that point with the tip of their nose. It’s hard to know which one or which one will be on the front line in a few years. In the nineties we had Lycos and Club Internet. Who could have predicted Google and Facebook? »
She estimates it will take five to 10 years for the metaverse to become mainstream. “My advice is: go there and see. Place some marbles, like in poker. Buy a piece of land and make small investments on two or three metaverses, at 4,000 to 5,000 euros at a time. It will already be very good to understand how it works and do the first tests. »
Large groups on the front line
Local players, such as the tourist office of Val d’Isère, are already buying land. The ski area has offered itself a lot on the Next Earth metaverse. The Spanish resort of Benidorm has created BenidormLand on the online gaming platform Steam, accessible to 140 million users. But it is mainly the large tourist groups (airlines, hotel networks, reservation platforms), with large financial resources, that will explore the many possibilities of virtual worlds.
However, Brian Chesky, the boss of Airbnb, remains realistic about the limits of these virtual travels. “These digital experiences work like bridges for me. People can try Airbnb, through the metaverse, for $10 or $20. They can connect with a host without having to fly and stay at someone’s home in another country. But it will be limited.he said at the Skift Global Forum in Fall 2021. His main concern is that these technologies will increase people’s sense of loneliness as Airbnb strives to bring people from different cultures closer together.
Marriotts, Hilton, Accor… large groups are exploring the different possibilities of the metaverse. At the beginning of May, the Singaporean chain Millennium Hotels opened M Social Decentraland, its first virtual hotel. “It captures the essence of the M Social brand with its avant-garde lifestyle”, the brand says in a press release. A virtual receptionist will welcome you there and your avatar can mingle with other people present in the premises. He can also attend events organized on site and even stay overnight. The goal is to « redefine the modethe traditional d‘hospitalitye” by making “new immersive experiences”.
The appeal of NFTs
By contrast, when the metaverse is still in its infancy, NFTs are already attracting tourism professionals. The idea is to offer resort enthusiasts the opportunity to acquire Non Fungible Tokens, often a work of digital fine art, proving their love for an experience, a building, a beach, etc. The city of Cannes just tried it.
Duplicated after the Cannes Film Festival in Fortnite, the city auctioned off some of its heritage in the form of NFTs during the Cannes Lions Festival. Boulevard de la Croisette, the Palais des Festivals, Port Canto, the island of Sainte-Marguerite, the underwater eco-museum, Malmaison, the old port, the market of Forville, Le Suquet, Pointe Croisette and the Georges-Méliès campus were sold virtually on the Artcurial website. Some 330,000 euros were collected (of which 50,000 euros was only for the Palais des Festivals). Each lucky buyer received the digital representation of the place, as well as a real 3D model.
For the municipality it is “a new innovative way to finance environmental and social actions”. For example, 10% of the amount collected was donated to the Cannes Endowment Fund for the development of projects related to the environment. According to this principle, we can take the NFT of a trip to the Maldives, an excursion to the Svalbard Islands in Northern Norway or a trek in Nepal… There is no doubt that this could appeal to tourists. A new factory of memories, in short.