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The Metaverse and Travel in 2022 by Anne Niemec, Evelyne Oreskovich

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June 10, 2022
HSMAI
Anne Niemec
EvelyneOreskovich

After two years in isolation due to the pandemic, many have a desire to travel once again. Road warriors who traveled for weeks per month for many years got used to taking advantage of Bleisure travel (before it was coined a new segment of travelers). The hardest part of not traveling was the lack of interfacing with family, friends, colleagues, and strangers. While there is a huge segment of road warriors and avid travelers making up the category of pent-up-demand,  some are still hesitant about traveling.
 

What if we could experience destination travel from the comfort of our living room through Virtual Reality headsets? What if we could attend a family wedding on a small island off the coast of Florida at a luxury resort or have a girl’s weekend with college friends on a houseboat? This new thing called “Virtual Travel” can be accomplished in the very near future in the world of meta tourism. 

Why not? Many of us already have a profile for gaming purposes to engage with friends while also making new ones. Why should a pandemic or imposed isolation, or even those with limited time to travel abroad, limit our wanderlust? It is easier than ever to hop online and enjoy an exciting experience with our friends and family, without time zones, flight connections and other delays, in a digital venue format. 

Is it on your bucket list to visit a national park? Virtually visit all 423 National Park sites in the United States without having to physically be there.  At Yosemite National Park in California, sleep in a tent within their campground or enjoy the luxury accommodations at The Ahwahnee Hotel. During the day, climb Half Dome (virtually), elevation 8,800 feet of granite rock, or explore over 800 miles of hiking trails and thousands of waterfalls, including Yosemite Falls, one of the world’s tallest. Imagine  your Avatar enjoying the accommodations, activities and scenery in a digital environment through meta tourism. This is not unreasonable considering how far the evolution of technology in the hospitality industry, specifically with virtual and hybrid events, has come. 

In fact, the industry has already begun embracing the metaverse. 

On May 5, 2022, Singapore-based Millennium Hotels and Resorts will open their first hotel in the metaverse – M Social Decentraland. 

The Smithsonian Institute has created a realistic virtual “Moonwalk” for visitors to experience using VR headsets. 

In December 2021, Marriott Bonvoy teamed up with digital artists to create its own NFTs – unveiling its “Power of Travel” campaign inspired digital art at Art Basel in Miami last December.

Clearly, the opportunities are endless as the hospitality landscape evolves.

Hoteliers could and should partner with their DMO’s to create experiences that can be enjoyed by all. It is easy to scale since there is no maximum occupancy to worry about as the venue is not made of brick and mortar but rather artificial intelligence and code. The technology is there waiting to revolutionize our industry. 3D mapping and scanning has advanced in recent years and is already widely used for conference and event rooms planning for clients. The same technology will allow you to make a digital scan of all the spaces in the property, creating an at home environment for guests to increase your reach and maximize revenue opportunities.

A number of consulting firms conduct technology journey assessments for hotels. These reviews are based on guest personas and provide validation and recommendations to ensure you are providing the appropriate level of service for each guest, at every touch point. 

According to Michelle Mason, franchise owner and operator of EventPrep, “Time is a precious resource and traveling to review prospective destinations for future events can take a lot of time. I would appreciate the opportunity to conduct a 3-D virtual tour of a location, hotel(s), convention space, and experiences with technology that is an upgrade from the traditional 360 tours. This would help us gain a better sense and feel of the space before making a recommendation to our client(s). We receive a large amount of marketing materials when attending destination tradeshows and conducting client site tours. If we could visit a destination virtually, there would be no need to produce the costly materials and our clients would reach decisions faster on where to hold their events. Not only would this save valuable time, but it would also have a positive impact to the environment with less travel and marketing materials produced. This would be a cost-effective way to experience a location without travel expenses, especially for programs that require multiple in-person site visits." 

 

While business travel has been slow to recover, most operators are optimistic about its return in 2023, although it is forecasted to look very different than pre-pandemic times. Employees have been successful working remotely and have since discovered they can effectively interface with their clients using video conferencing.  The idea of introducing a meta version of a conference doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it may have pre-pandemic. Considering associations are required to meet annually, they would likely see a higher attendance rate compared with conducting the event in person, plus it is more cost effective. This would allow for more authentic networking which for some is the main reason for attending trade shows and conferences. Another segment of travelers that would be attracted to meta tourism is the social market, specifically celebratory events - including bar and bat mitzvahs, Sweet 16, and weddings. Guests from all over the world could attend and participate in the activities through their online profile.
The current modality, Zoom and Teams, are platforms for human communication but lack the experience of the destination or venue. They have avatar type experiences for interaction with exhibitors but the outcome is a passive one; where participants watch and chat in a box rather than directly engaging with the event. The virtual experience is dependent upon the device utilized. If the event could be amplified allowing an experience combining both human communication and virtual reality it would create an entirely new travel experience for attendees. 

Some scenarios to consider:

  • You are at California Adventure and enter the Soaring California ride where you can feel the breeze, smell the citrus, and experience the visual beauty. In other words, incorporate virtual reality for all the senses, not just sight and sound.
  • At a conference or event, AI could discern the favorite food of the attendee and send the smell to the virtual attendee during the mealtime.
  • At a girl’s weekend in Napa, the vineyard sends the guest bottles of wine in advance, allowing them to participate in the virtual wine tasting event at a vineyard. By utilizing the same 4D technology that Disney has equipped, travel experiences can become that much more unique and memorable for the guest. 


The effects of the pandemic have highlighted the importance of travel and human connection. If that is made easier through digital tourism, it is a welcome change. The hospitality industry has seen numerous benefits of utilizing the technology already available to us. This is another exciting technology tool to make the travel experience available and engaging to your guests. After two years of sitting idle and our desire for human connection, road warriors and world travelers are ready to reconnect and engage again. It’s beneficial to the soul and the economy! Those of us in the hospitality space want to see a quick recovery for our industry, but it is prudent to be agile and welcome change, including meta tourism. After all, where would tourism be without the introduction of Uber and LYFT? As an industry, we need to look to the future and be imaginative with technology at our disposal. Envision a world filled with travelers once again, both digital and physical.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anne Niemec is the VP of Business Develop & Sales Practice Lead, and Evelyne Oreskovich is the VP of Projects & Implementations for Dragonfly Strategists.



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