The tourism sector takes a look at the metaverse

If you have nothing planned for May 22, how about a return trip to Benidorm … without leaving home? On this date, the popular seaside resort on the east coast of Spain, on the Costa Blanca, launches BenidormLand, a metaverse (or metaverse) that will be accessible to 140 million users of the Steam online gaming platform. The promise of this pilot project, developed with the Spanish company SIX3D? An immersion in the city, between beaches and skyscrapers, as if we were there.

Tourism players still little interested in the metaverse in France

Benidorm is the first European tourist destination to announce its positioning in the metaverse, this immersive and interactive virtual world that has been gaining momentum since July 2021, after Marc Zuckerberg announced the construction of a metaverse by Facebook (renamed Meta). “This evolution of the Internet is part of a context in which social networks are in a very competitive environment with the arrival of new entrants. There may be a saturation of users, who need to change platforms or experiment with new ways of communicating. “comments Naïma Aïdi, PhD student in information and communication sciences, specializing in tourism.

Asian cities, including Seoul and Tokyo, have also announced their arrival in the metaverse. The South Korean capital plans to open its own metaverse in 2023, which will offer a tour of the city’s top attractions, from Gwanghwamun Square to Namdaemun Market to Deoksugung Palace.

Seoul’s Deoksugung Palace will be part of the “Seoul Metaverse” project, which is scheduled to open in 2023. Tuomas A. Lehtinen

In France, tourism operators are still wary of the metaverse. While the general director of the Val d’Isère tourist office announced the acquisition of land on Next Earth, a decentralized virtual world, with its own funds, the city of Cannes announced in early April on Twitter that it was “the first city in France and Europe to invest in the metaverse”. Specifically, a partnership has been established with a Cannes company specializing in artificial intelligence to archive some emblematic Cannes sites in the form of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT).

“The sites evaluated will be the Palais des Festivals de Cannes, the Boulevard de la Croisette, the Port Canto, the Île Sainte-Marguerite, the underwater ecomuseum, the Malmaison, the Old Port, the Forville market, the Suquet, the Pointe Croisette and the Georges Méliès Campus “, says the town hall. During the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, next June, an auction will be organized to acquire these first 10 NFTs. “Buyers will receive a 3D reproduction of the object. On the 11th it will be offered to a Cannes resident as part of a drawing,” completes the town hall.

A parallel tourist offer

Still nascent, the metaverse is a new playground for the tourism industry. So what can we expect in terms of products in this virtual world? “We can imagine extraordinary catalogs, in 4D, of the destination, in which it will be possible to walk. As with augmented reality, we can also imagine being able to walk back in time and discover how monuments were before”describes Sophie Lacour, general manager of Advanced Tourism.

“The metaverse can be a promotional tool for brands and destinations, a recreation of what they offer.” Sophie Lacourt, Director General of Advanced Tourism

“The added value of the metaverse is to offer things that you cannot offer locally, such as strolling through ancient destinations, interacting with period characters”adds Sophie Lacourt. The metaverse could also be a way to encourage tourists to return to a destination that they would not have had time to fully explore, and thus foster the phenomenon of “repeaters”, those tourists who visit the same destination at least twice.

Tourist destinations invented in the metaverse?

The specialist goes even further, and wonders if it will not be possible, in the long term, to invent tourist destinations in the metaverse. After all, many artists have already created their own universe in the metaverse, such as MoyaLand, the virtual universe of artist Patrick Moya on Second Life, which has existed since 2007. This tourist virtual universe has, among other things, a tourist office, a airport, but also various museums. “With the metaverse, it is tourism that will have to be redefined”Sophie Lacour is enthusiastic, but she nevertheless wants to be cautious.

5 to 10 years before seeing a successful offer

According to the consultant, neither the servers nor the people are, in fact, ready for a democratization of the metaverse. For the moment, only technophiles and “early adopters” seem interested in these new worlds, although studies are encouraging. A Yougov study conducted on February 24 and 25, 2022 reports, for example, that almost one in two young people (47%) between the ages of 18 and 24 would be curious to visit a tourist destination through a metaverse.

“It will take hardware, perhaps glasses – equipment that not everyone has – as well as powerful machines to make the experience enjoyable. For now, the metaverse is not for everyone. The world, for technological and sociological reasons related to this disruptive technology. It will be. so for another 5-10 years “believes Sophie Lacour.

For this reason, the consultant advises his clients in the tourism sector to pay close attention. “The issue is also investing in the right metaverse, the one that will last. Let’s look at what is happening, we could buy pieces of land, but for the moment it is not worth making big investments”explains.

The metaverse will not replace the real

Above all because there is a fear of various tourism actors that the metaverse will replace reality. No chance, according to Sophie Lacour, who believes people will always want to move. Furthermore, if we refer to the definition of tourism as defined by the World Tourism Organization, the latter designates “a social, cultural and economic phenomenon that involves the movement of people to countries or places outside their usual environment, which occurs for personal reasons or for work and professional reasons”. Nothing to do, therefore, with visiting a virtual world sitting on your sofa.

“There is a big difference between eating a skewer on the Baltic Sea and eating a hamburger in the metaverse. “ Sophie Lacourt, Director General of Advanced Tourism

For Naima Aidi, “The tourist experience is still very much linked to hedonism, to pleasure, to the sensation of discovering new things, to wonder. The metaverse can arouse the desire to travel but it cannot replace a separate experience.”

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