Journey, journey (into the metaverse)

“Let’s be clear, the metaverse will never be a substitute for 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 a development of the market, but it cannot replace the travel experience, at least not in my lifetime”said Tariq Al Mutawa, Thailand country manager for Emirates airline.

The latter has developed a virtual reality experience compatible with Meta’s Oculus headset. Everyone can – for free – take a trip in business class, discover the interior of the cockpit of an airplane and “experience the luxury of service for a first-class passenger”. Does the idea not appeal to you more than that, or do you even leave a bitter taste in your mouth? The virtual offer also makes it more prosaically possible to visualize your seat with precision thanks to a 3D rendering of the cabin.

Emirates A380 business class bar ride.© Emirates

“Apparently the metaverse is the antithesis of travelpoints out Max Starkov, American consultant in tourism. Traveling is all about pleasing your five senses: taste, smell, touch, hearing and sight. At best, the metaverse can allow you to experience two: hearing and sight. So how might it affect tourism? One thing that metaverse and travel have in common is that both are social. »

He believes in three ways to bring the two worlds together. On the one hand, through virtual and hybrid events, such as concerts. On the other hand, to facilitate professional meetings – one of the avenues currently being explored by the French Accord group with Microsoft. Finally, to explore very distant or now inaccessible destinations. As a place that is closed to the public or whose access is increasingly restricted. In this regard, we can imagine completely virtual visits from the bottom of your sofa or a more hybrid system, which still involves going to the country. “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 when you’re nearby, you can discover the historic site via a virtual reality headset or an immersive room. We still enjoy the local atmosphere”says Sophie Lacour.

Virtual tourism, real interest

A study revealed by Dynata looked at the metaverse. Title New experience economy and conducted with 11,000 consumers in 11 countries, it 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 interest of the general public in these virtual immersions.

It is possible to visit Machu Picchu in the metaverse.©Boca Raton Museum of Art

We find that 50% of people are interested in buying a travel experience such as a hotel stay or an activity in the metaverse. This number even rises to 55% for millennials. On the other hand, it is only 29% for baby boomers. A trend that reflects the fact that 47% of French people want to travel in a more environmentally friendly way, according to a study 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, a tight budget or to avoid the fatigue of long journeys when we get older … The reasons for choosing virtual journeys can be many.

Much more than “virtual tours”

“In my opinion, the metaverse will not necessarily find its interest in visiting emblematic places in 3D, but rather it will intervene around the journey itself, assures Sophie Lacour. This will make it possible to create advanced websites that make it easier to get into the preparation of your trip by discovering in detail the rooms of a hotel, the experiences offered around the destination, etc. »

Specifically, a hotel – or a chain of hotels – will buy a plot of land in a metaverse, if possible by the sea (virtual) or near a very busy place (night club, luxury brand store, etc.) to have passage. “Like in real life, you have to choose the right location in the metaversenotes Sophie Lacour. It will then be necessary to recreate the hotel by giving it a more or less similar appearance and by proposing a reconstruction of the different types of rooms, the restaurant area, the lounge etc. And offers an overview of additional products, such as excursions. » In this space, the hotel will also be able to create, animate and manage its community by regularly offering events. “Attending a little concert in the metaverse to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of your last vacation is still more fun than receiving a promotional email”says Sophie Lacour.

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

All of this is still very much virtual and imagined. Even Sophie Lacour admits it. She advises Advanced Tourism, a company specializing in forecasting, artificial intelligence and robotics in tourism. If she invites tourism specialists not to wait to try the metaverse, she encourages 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 sooner. Then you have to choose which metaverse to focus on. There are 25 known, 150 moderately developed and several thousand tipping the tip of the nose. It is difficult to know which one or which ones will be on the front line in a few years. In the 1990s we had Lycos and Club Internet. Who could have predicted Google and Facebook? »

She estimates that it will take five to ten years before the metaverse begins to become mainstream. “My advice is: go there and see. Place some marbles, like in poker. Buy a small piece of land and make small investments in two or three metaverses at a rate of 4,000 or 5,000 euros each time. It will already be very good to understand how it works and make the first tests. »

Large groups in the front line

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

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

Marriotts, Hilton, Accor… large groups are exploring the various possibilities of the metaverse. In early May, the Singaporean chain Millennium Hotels opened M Social Decentraland, a first virtual hotel. “It sums up the essence of the M Social brand with its avant-garde lifestyle”, says the brand in a press release. A virtual receptionist welcomes you there and your avatar can mingle with 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 courageethe traditional dhospitalitye” by creating “new immersive experiences”.

NFT’s appeal

If the metaverse is still in its infancy, NFTs, on the other hand, are already attracting tourism professionals. The idea is to offer lovers of the resort the opportunity to acquire a non-fungable token, very often a digital visual artwork, which proves their love for an experience, a building, a beach, etc. The city of Cannes just tried it.

After the Cannes Film Festival duplicated in Fortnite, the city auctioned some of its heritage in the form of NFTs during the Cannes Lions Festival. Boulevard de la Croisette, Palais des Festivals, Port Canto, Sainte-Marguerite Island, the underwater eco-museum, Malmaison, the old port, Forville market, Le Suquet, Pointe Croisette and the Georges-Méliès campus were sold virtually on the Artcurial website. Around 330,000 euros were thus collected (including 50,000 euros only for the Palais des Festivals). Each lucky buyer received the digital representation of the site, but also a real 3D model.

For the municipality it is “a new innovative way to finance environmental and social initiatives”. Thus, 10% of the amount collected 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 for a trip to the Maldives, an excursion to the Svalbard Islands in northern Norway or a trek in Nepal… There is no doubt that this could appeal to tourists. A new factory of memories, in short.

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