Journey, journey (in the metaverse)

Let me be clear, the metaverse can never replace 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 viewer. Anyone can – for free – take a ride in business class, discover the inside of an airplane’s cockpit and “experience the luxury of first class passenger service”. Does the idea not appeal to you more than that, or does it even leave you with a bad taste in your mouth? The virtual offer also allows, more prosaically, to accurately view the position of your seat thanks to a 3D rendering of the passenger compartment.

Emirates A380 Business Class Bar Tour.© Emirates

“Apparently, the metaverse is the antithesis of travelunderlines Max Starkov, an American consultant in tourism. Traveling means satisfying your five senses: taste, smell, touch, hearing and sight. At best, the metaverse can allow you to experience two of them: hearing and sight. So how can it impact tourism? One thing the metaverse and travel have in common is that they are both social. “

He believes in three ways to unite the two worlds. On the one hand, through virtual and hybrid events, such as concerts. On the other hand, facilitating professional meetings, one of the paths currently being explored by the French group Accord with Microsoft. Finally, to explore far away or inaccessible destinations. Like a place closed to the public or where access is increasingly limited. In this regard, we can imagine totally virtual visits from the bottom of the sofa or a more hybrid system, which in any case involves going 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 nearby, discover the historic site via a virtual reality headset or immersive room. We still enjoy the local atmosphere “says Sophie Lacour.

Virtual tourism, real interest

A study presented by Dynata looked at the metaverse. Title New Economics Experience and made with 11,000 consumers in 11 countries, concludes that 40% of respondents say they are interested in a virtual trip. 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 this public interest in these virtual dives.

Visiting Machu Picchu in the metaverse is doable.© Boca Raton Art Museum

We find that 50% of people are interested in purchasing a travel experience such as a hotel stay or a metaverse activity. This figure even rises to 55% for millennials. On the other hand, it’s only 29% for baby boomers. A trend that echoes the fact that 47% of French people want to travel in a more environmentally friendly way, according to a study conducted 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, on a limited budget or to avoid the fatigue of long journeys as we get older… There are many reasons for choosing virtual travel.

Much more than “virtual tours”

“In my opinion, the metaverse will not necessarily find its interest by visiting emblematic places in 3D, but rather it will intervene around the journey itself, assures Sophie Lacourt. This will allow you to create advanced websites, which will facilitate the start of travel preparation by discovering in detail the rooms of a hotel, the experiences offered around the destination, etc. “

Specifically, a hotel – or a hotel chain – will buy a lot in a metaverse, possibly by the sea (virtual) or near a very busy place (nightclub, luxury brand shop, etc.) to get a ride. “As in real life, you have to choose the right position in the metaverseobserves Sophie Lacourt. It will then be necessary to recreate the hotel giving it a fairly similar appearance and proposing inside the reconstruction of the different types of rooms, the restaurant area, the living room, etc. And offer an overview of additional products, such as excursions. “ In this space, the hotel will also be able to create, animate and manage its own community by regularly proposing events. “Attending a small concert in the metaverse to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of your last vacation is even more fun than receiving a promotional email”says Sophie Lacour.

The home of the virtual hotel M Social in the metaverse of Decentraland.© Millennium Hotels

All of this is still very virtual and fantasized. Even Sophie Lacou admits it. She is a consultant for Advanced Tourism, a company specializing in forecasting, artificial intelligence and robotics in the field of tourism. If 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 get started, because the technology is not yet fully developed. This will no doubt be the case in five years, but not before. So you have to choose which metaverse to focus on. There are 25 known, 150 moderately developed and several thousand that point the tip of the nose. It is difficult to know which or which will be at the forefront in a few years. In the 90s we had Lycos and Club Internet. Who could have predicted Google and Facebook? “

He estimates that it will take five to ten years for the metaverse to start going mainstream. “My advice is: go there and see. Put on marbles, like in poker. Buy a small piece of land and make small investments in two or three metaversals, at a price of 4,000 or 5,000 euros each time. It will already be very useful to understand how it works and do the first tests. “

Large groups at the forefront

Local players, such as the Val d’Isère tourist office, are already buying land. The ski resort has offered itself a plot on the Next Earth metaverse. The Spanish seaside resort Benidorm created BenidormLand on the Steam online gaming platform, accessible to 140 million users. But it is above all the large tourist groups (airlines, hotel networks, booking platforms), with large financial resources, which will explore the multiple possibilities of virtual worlds.

However, Brian Chesky, the boss of Airbnb, remains realistic about the limits of these virtual travels. “These digital experiences act as bridges for me. People will be able, through the metaverse, to try Airbnb for $ 10 or $ 20. They will be able to connect with a host without having to fly and stay at someone’s home in another country. But it will be limited.he told the Skift Global Forum in the fall of 2021. His main concern is that these technologies will increase people’s feelings of loneliness as Airbnb aspires to bring people from different cultures together.

Marriotts, Hilton, Accor … large groups are exploring the different possibilities of the metaverse. In early May, Singapore’s Millennium Hotels chain opened M Social Decentraland, a first virtual hotel. “Summarizes the essence of the M Social brand with its avant-garde lifestyle”, the brand states in a press release. A virtual receptionist welcomes you there and your avatar can socialize with the other people present on the premises. He can also participate in events organized on site and even spend the night there. The goal is to «Redefine the modAndthe traditional dhospitalityAnd” creating “New immersive experiences”.

The appeal of the NFT

If the metaverse is still in its infancy, NFTs, on the other hand, are already attracting tourism professionals. The idea is to offer resort lovers the opportunity to acquire a Non Fungible Token, most often a digital visual artwork, which demonstrates their love for an experience, a building, a beach, etc. The city of Cannes has just tried it.

After the duplication of the Cannes Film Festival Fortnite, the city auctioned part of its assets in the form of NFTs during the Cannes Lion Festival. Boulevard de la Croisette, the Palais des Festivals, Port Canto, the island of Sainte-Marguerite, the underwater ecomuseum, the Malmaison, the Old Port, the Forville market, Le Suquet, Pointe Croisette and the Georges-Méliès campus are been sold practically on the Artcurial website. Approximately 330,000 euros were thus raised (of which 50,000 only for the Palais des Festivals). Each lucky buyer received a digital representation of the place, but also a real 3D model.

For the municipality it is “A new innovative way to finance environmental and social actions”. Therefore, 10% of the amount raised was donated to the Cannes Endowment Fund for the development of projects related to the environment. According to this principle, we can keep the NFT of a trip to the Maldives, an excursion to the Svalbard Islands in northern Norway or a trekking in Nepal… There is no doubt that this will please tourists. In short, a new factory of memories.

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