Tourism and metavers: towards a generalization of virtual travel?

The meta-verse occupies an increasingly important place in the media landscape. While some position themselves in a cautious or refractory manner, others view this technological development as an opportunity to develop new offerings.

Tourism is a sector that is largely evolving according to information and communication technologies, so it is quite relevant to question the way in which it could integrate this virtual universe. And it is since the announcement of the creation of the Meta Group by Mark Zuckerberg that this term has spread massively in the world. Metaverse can be defined as a set of virtual spaces, persistent, shared, indexed in the real world and accessible via 3D interaction.

So how could the metaverse take over tourism, a practice that requires physical travel?

Do tourism and technology go hand in hand?

There is a clear link between the development of tourism and the development of technologies, which always go hand in hand. In fact, from computerized reservation centers in the 1970s to the domestication of the Internet towards the end of the 1990s, technology has always been deployed in tourism to bring new practices forward.

Metaverset is part of this development of the Internet, which uses increasingly immersive technologies to offer phygital experiences, that is, where the boundaries between the real and the virtual become more and more permeable.

Whether in museums, national parks or cultural heritage sites, the health crisis has also enabled many actors to increase and maintain the use of technological tools to offer virtual reality tours. The Fly Over Zone application allows, in addition to offering an exploration of World Heritage sites, digital restoration of damaged sites.

Web giant Amazon has launched “Amazon Explore” for literally “virtually traveling the world”. This commercial component is an interactive live streaming service that they say allows you to discover new places from your computer. If this offer is still in its infancy, with a beta version, it’s a sure bet that this virtual tour service will evolve to offer even more immersive formats.

In terms of tourism, Asia is a pioneer with already very advanced proposals such as the “Seoul Metaverse” project, which aims to become the first major city in the world to enter the metaverse, with a tourist route that will reproduce the most important places i bytur.

MoyaLand, the first French virtual tourist universe

But it is in France that we find one of the most successful projects with MoyaLand: a tourist virtual universe, built as a virtual and immersive artistic reproduction, which has a tourist office, museums, an airport, a historic center where residents and tourists can evolve virtually through their avatars.

Other tourism players could follow suit, because according to the American company Gartner, 25% of people in 2026 will spend at least one hour a day in the meta-verse. So how will these people experience tourism in this virtual environment?

Metaverset to encourage travel

There are two main tendencies to define the tourist experience: the first relates to the order of the process of a transformation of the world into knowledge, the second relates to the moment lived with a central place given to hedonism and the feeling of success. If tourism per. definition requires physical movement, there is actually a contrast to the tourist experiences that the metaverset offers, which can still replace it, but above all arouse the desire to travel.

Remember that virtual reality is an immersive environment created using a technological device that gives the user digitally created sensations such as sight, hearing, touch and even smell. In order to awaken their senses in the virtual tourist areas of the metaverse, users will therefore have to be equipped with visual, sound, haptic (of the sense sensor type), tactile and olfactory devices. In addition to the cost of acquiring them, the use of these new devices calls into question the perception of the senses that man has with his environment.

By reproducing a tourist device, the meta-verse forms a whole between the device, the user, who sits in a tourist’s place and the other spectators. Although the experience is virtual, the senses are well utilized by stimulating certain situations that are desired but not available at the time.

By allowing an immersive practice, the virtual reality headset or the haptic sensors would make it possible to experience things that were hitherto intangible and to reconnect to sensuality. Through his avatar, the user of the metaverse can embody a tourist by virtually constructing a tour route, interacting with other avatars and therefore imagining what they are feeling, by stimulating what Giacomo Rizzolatti calls mirror neurons.

Societal and environmental constraints

Imitated, reproduced or simulated, all that remains is that travel and vacations represent tourist practices that represent a break from everyday life. These moments are also an opportunity for some to find their loved ones or to practice activities that are difficult to perform in the usual course of life. Observing animals during a safari, discovering archeological sites or practicing a foreign language are activities that produce unique bodily and spiritual sensations, essential and different from those actually produced by the devices of the metaverse.

Moreover, the meta-verse, which is in itself a technological development of the Internet, is not yet complete. It requires financial investment and the building of a regulatory framework to regulate user behavior.

Still a long way to go

Because when Mark Zuckerberg wants to create a virtual and alternative world that users can also travel in, we must not forget that it is also user data that must be used. And if some observe the metaverse as a solution to avoid flying and tend towards sustainable tourism, the digital pollution that it causes may well go in the opposite direction of virtuous tourism.

Although tourism in the metaverse can not replace a tourist experience living away from home, some tourism professionals could take advantage of it to make famous places that are not easily accessible or ignored by tourists who will discover them virtually.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Naïma Aïdi, PhD student in Information and Communication Science, affiliated with the Dicen-IdF laboratory. Tourism and smart tourism, Gustave Eiffel University

Leave a Comment