The tourism sector takes a look at the metaverse

If you have nothing planned for May 22, how about a return trip to Benidorm… without leaving your home? On this date, the famous seaside resort on the east coast of Spain, on the Costa Blanca, launches BenidormLand, a metaverse (or metaverse) that will be available to the 140 million users of the Steam online gaming platform. The promise of this pilot project, developed with the Spanish company SIX3D? An immersion in the city, between beaches and skyscrapers, as if we were there.

Tourism players are still not very interested in the France metaverse

Benidorm is the first European tourist destination to announce its positioning in the metaverse, this immersive and interactive virtual world that has been gaining momentum since July 2021, after Marc Zuckerberg announced the construction of a metaverse by Facebook (by the way renamed Meta). “This development of the Internet is part of a context where social networks are in a very competitive environment with the arrival of new participants. There may be a saturation of users who need to switch platforms or experiment with new ways of communicate on.”comments Naïma Aïdi, doctoral student in information and communication sciences with specialization in tourism.

Cities in Asia, including Seoul and Tokyo, have also announced their arrival on the metaverse. South Korea’s capital plans to open its own metaverse in 2023, which will offer a tour of the city’s top attractions, from Gwanghwamun Square to Namdaemun Market to Deoksugung Palace.

Deoksugung Palace in Seoul will be part of the “Seoul Metaverse” project, which is expected to open in 2023. Tuomas A. Lehtinen

In France, tourism actors are still wary of the metaverse. While the director general of the Val d’Isère tourist office announced the acquisition of land on Next Earth, a decentralized virtual world, for its own funds, the city of Cannes announced at the beginning of April on Twitter to be “the first city in France and Europe to invest in the metaverse”. Specifically, a partnership has been established with a Cannes company specializing in artificial intelligence to store certain emblematic Cannes locations in the form of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT).

“The places appreciated will be the Palais des Festivals de Cannes, Boulevard de la Croisette, Port Canto, Île Sainte-Marguerite, the underwater eco-museum, Malmaison, the old port, the Forville market, Suquet, Pointe Croisette and Campus Georges- Méliès”, says the town hall. During the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, next June, an auction will be organized to acquire these first 10 NFTs. “Buyers will get a 3D rendering of the object. The 11th will be offered to a resident of Cannes as part of a raffle,” concludes the town hall.

A parallel tourist offer

Still nascent, the metaverse is a new playground for the tourism industry. So what can we expect from products in this virtual world? “We can imagine extraordinary catalogues, in 4D, of the destination where it will be possible to walk around. As with augmented reality, we can also imagine being able to go back in time and discover how the monuments were before.”describes Sophie Lacour, general manager of Advanced Tourism.

“The metaverse can be a promotional tool for brands and destinations, a re-creation of what they offer.” Sophie Lacour, General Manager for Advanced Tourism

“The added value of the metaverse is to offer things that you can’t offer on location, such as walking around old destinations, interacting with period characters”, adds Sophie Lacour. The metaverse could also be a way to encourage tourists to return to a destination they would not have had time to fully explore, thus encouraging the phenomenon of “repeaters”, those tourists who visit at least twice the same destination.

Tourist destinations invented in the metaverse?

The specialist goes even further and wonders if it will not eventually be possible to invent tourist destinations in the metaverse. Many artists have already created their own universe in the metaverse, such as MoyaLand, artist Patrick Moya’s virtual universe on Second Life, which has existed since 2007. This virtual tourist universe has, among other things, a tourist office, an airport, but also various museums. “With the metaverse, it is tourism that needs to be redefined”enthuses Sophie Lacour, who nevertheless wants to be careful.

5 to 10 years before you see a successful offer

According to the consultant, neither the servers nor the people are really ready for a democratization of the metaverse. Currently, only technophiles and “early adopters” seem to be interested in these new worlds, although studies are encouraging. A Yougov survey conducted on February 24 and 25, 2022, for example, reports that almost every second young person (47%) between the ages of 18 and 24 would be curious about visiting a tourist destination through a metaverse.

“It will require hardware, perhaps glasses – equipment that not everyone has – as well as powerful machines to make the experience enjoyable. For now, the metaverse is not for everyone. the world, for technological and sociological reasons related to this disruptive technology . That’s how it will be for another 5 to 10 years”says Sophie Lacour.

For this reason, the consultant advises his clients in the tourism sector to be very careful. “The question is also investing in the right metaverse, the one that holds. We’ll see what happens, we might buy bits of land, but it’s not worth making big investments at the moment.”she explains.

The metaverse will not replace the real

Especially since there is a fear among various tourism stakeholders that the metaverse will replace reality. Not a chance, according to Sophie Lacour, who believes that people will always move. If, in addition, we refer to the definition of tourism as established by the World Tourism Organization, the latter indicates “a social, cultural and economic phenomenon involving the movement of people to countries or places outside their usual environment, arising for personal reasons or for business and professional reasons.” There is therefore nothing to do with visiting a virtual world sitting in your own sofa.

“There is a big difference between eating a skewer by the Baltic Sea and eating a hamburger in it metaverse.” Sophie Lacour, General Manager for Advanced Tourism

To Naima Aidi, “the tourist experience is still very much linked to hedonism, to pleasure, to the feeling of discovering new things, to wonder. The metaverse could awaken a desire to travel, but it cannot replace an experience separated from the whole.”

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