A while ago, the idea of virtual reality (VR) appeared like a far-fetched impression that only seemed conceivable in a different lifetime. As it drove its way into the gaming industry as a niche offering, its paybacks have developed to be identifiable. Therefore, today it seems more tangible in the wider commercial domain. VR and AR have already brought an upheaval in the worlds of cinema, medical training, journalism, and it seems like it may find its next best use with travel.

In the wake of the current pandemic, many organizations are already rethinking travel by leveraging digital capabilities, possibly making it the new normal. One such example is the World Economic Forum’s The Known Traveller Digital Identity initiative. The key idea is to establish a digital identity for every traveler that would include their biometric, biographic & travel history to better enable their verification and accessibility across places. Read more

With such initiatives and many more, it seems like the world of travel is ready for a digital makeover. But before we analyze this situation let’s first begin by educating ourselves a little bit more about the concept.

What is virtual Travel?

Just picture yourself sitting on a couch while enjoying the 3D panoramic views of Scotland’s scenic setting, Rajasthan’s tangerine aesthetics or of the splendid Eiffel Tower in Paris. Yes! All of this is possible via Virtual Reality. VR is the term used to define a three-dimensional produced setting which can be explored by you sitting at the comfort of your house with just a few equipments. On the other hand, Augmented reality, or AR, is a digital technology, which makes changes to a person’s awareness of their physical environments, when viewed through a device. The technology has similarities with virtual reality, but AR does not replace the real-world environment but supplements it by overlaying digital components. It’s like creating layers over the reality you know.

Here’s a video to show you the difference between the two: Click here

Gear for virtual reality

Customers in the travel industry are looking to get a memorable experience. This in the past has been done through image analysis, view ratings, looking at videos, or pursue advice. Where we normally say an image is like 1000 words, VR and AR seem to have the potential to tell the whole story!
There are a lot of companies already working on making virtual travel as tangible as possible. Let’s have a look at one extremely popular virtual tour:

Mona Lisa: Virtual tour

Giving a virtual makeover to the iconic Mona Lisa, the Louvre museum in Paris presented a virtual reality experience with a three-dimensional view of the painting without having to deal with the jostling crowd. The tour was designed to be a more intimate experience battling the challenges of both distance and crowd. “She will be seated, and spectators will be facing her like a conversation, face to face. This experience will allow visitors to meet and learn more about the Mona Lisa herself, beyond the myths and legends that have surrounded her for over 500 years said Dominique de Font-Réaulx, the Louvre’s director of mediation and cultural programming.

Watch this video to see details of this phenomenal tour:


According to the Fiscal Brief, the revenue collected in 2016 by Virtual Travel was USD 1.8 billion and is expected to reach 16.3 billion by 2022. It is pretty attractive when you think about it, but it may also have its downsides. So, here’s a quick look at some of the pros and cons of this technology, and what seems like a slowly evolving trend.

PROS:

  • World at your fingertips: Imagine switching off any time of the day and reaching any place you want. How about a drive along the west coast after dinner? The clearest benefit of having the option to travel virtually is that it allows you to travel more places than you would have otherwise, that too in a fairly profound way. Imagine actually exploring all those images in your favorite wanderlust blog and ticking off multiple of those places in just a single day
  • Helps in planning better: In a couple of years, you will also be part of the actual booking process. Theoretically, you could walk onto a plane using VR, select your seat (with a purchase option), then move to your destination, book a restaurant according to your whims and wishes, select facilities for your room, etc. This might be a new element in terms of your trip planning. It was not really long ago that reviews came into existence. And I am sure no one today books a place without carefully checking ratings and reviews. You had these hotels putting up pictures and then traveler pictures were added, now videos. All of these are steps full proofing our booking experience and VR can be a step forward in that 
VR and AR in Travel industry
  • Extending its usage in education sector: We’ve seen how the education sector has been evolving lately, with institutions focusing on more immersive and inclusive learning. And this where travel enabled through VR can also find one of its applications. Perhaps now students can actually be taken to the seven wonders virtually as they learn about these places. Such are the opportunities for, the now digitized, education sector that they can harness from virtual travel
  • Travel Accessibility for all: To me, this would probably be the biggest advantage of virtual travel. Imagine the happiness that it could bring to someone who hasn’t traveled in years. So many times people limited by their physical capabilities have to give up travel even if it means the world to them. But with VR becoming a reality these people will actually be able to immerse themselves in the world of travel yet again. What a joy would that be!
    Watch this absolutely heart-melting video to have a glimpse of this:

CONS:

  • Limited Experience– No matter what traveling in Virtual Travel can never match up to the same experience as the real thing. It’s wonderful that this technology can allow people to see places they wouldn’t otherwise see. But the disadvantage is that VR and AR can turn the idea of travel into an almost purely visual experience, shunning culture, its inability to kindle your taste buds, and all of the other things that make a real trip so distinct. Therefore, its basic drawback being it cannot stimulate your senses of taste, feel and smell. 
  • Expensive equipment-Needless to say, the equipment you need to purchase to cherish the desired virtual experience will have skyrocketing prices. Right from the glasses, the gloves and a plethora of other devices along with software are needed to support this technology. Even though this cost would still be much lesser than your cost of travel in the long run, however, the initial cost does pinch one a lot.
  • Same experience for all: I am sure you must have heard of hundreds of drunken. goa stories, all very different from the other. Or thousands of different descriptions about the quaint little villages of Himachal. Ever wondered what makes all these stories different? It’s the individual, their experience, their choices. And sadly this element will be absent in these virtual tours. These pre-fabricated experiences will be curated by a set of people with a hint of their perspective and how they would want the viewers to see the place. Therefore, leaving little scope for you to take the road less traveled
Enabling travel through virtual reality
  • Less Social – Being a global trotter, you would agree on the fact that it is the people who make a trip unique. There can be nothing better than interacting with the locals. In VR, you won’t have any real interaction with locals in a destination when simulating a travel experience. However, it also applies to the idea of travel companions. While you and a friend can theoretically enjoy the same travel experience in VR, it’s not quite the same as actually going on a journey together.

The former facts beseech the question if or whether Virtual Travel will ever be able to replace actual travel. Italy4Real, a travel agency based in the United States conducted a survey in which 80% of respondents trust that virtual travel will never substitute travel.When asked why, an irresistible urge followed that with Virtual mediums we will not be able to experience or feel the atmosphere, local food, the inability to meet new people would be also a hitch. Hence stimulating the senses would be a major drawback that VR won’t be able to produce.

In fact, it seems likely that not only will travel not be traded with virtual reality, but the contradictory might occur: with their inadequate sensory contributions, VR and AR involvements will just hone travelers’ hunger for the real thing, making them want to bodily experience what they just saw and heard. Thus, it seems like Virtual Travel might not completely replace our travel but it does carry potential to unleash a multitude of possiblities.

What are your views on virtual travel?

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