Tourism industry occupies a prominent place in the world economy: it employs 330 million people worldwide and represents 10% of the world’s GDP. However, this is one of the sectors that paid the heaviest price for the covid-19 health crisis. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), containment measures and the closure of borders have lost $ 320 billion to the global tourism sector.But thanks to digitalization, tourist activities have been found online or have widened to virtual reality. Will these technologies be enough to save the tourism sector ?
The digitization of Tourism Industry
By the late 1990s, the tourism industry began to digitize itself in the face of the democratization of the Internet. Today’s essential platforms appeared at that time: Booking and Expedia in 1996, TripAdvisor in 2000. Today it is estimated that around 90% of travelers plan their trips entirely via the Internet and that 80% of them make all their reservations online.
Traditional tourism players therefore had to digitize themselves to attract these potential customers. Digital content is used to stir up people’s curiosity and convince them to buy a product. One of the pioneers in this area was Club Med, which very early set up videos of its destinations for marketing purposes : they help the consumer to better project themselves during their visit to a travel agency. This content, more immersive than catalogs, plays an important role in the purchasing decision.
Two months ago, Amazon launched its own platform for individual virtual experiences, Amazon Explore. The user can make a virtual live trip with a local expert. The e-commerce giant wants to use these personalized sessions to pave the way for purchases: the user can travel the aisles of a local market and buy products, for example.
Virtual reality, a new tool for digital tourism transformation
Innovative virtual reality technology is also increasingly used by tourist offices and travel agencies. According to a survey by the Australian tourist office, one in five consumers has already chosen their holiday destination thanks to virtual reality.
Many startups have emerged to help tourism players in their digitization. This is the case, for example, of Tourist Wise, which is developing a mobile application to help tourism organizations improve the visitor experience thanks to virtual reality, glification, or the translation of content. Many other companies also offer tailor-made virtual content development services.
But faced with the health crisis of covid-19, this digitization has taken a new direction.
Traveling from your sofa
Confined with them, in more or less restricted spaces, travelers want to escape. Thanks to new technologies, it is now possible to travel while staying at home.
Many tourist offices then put on-line 360 ° immersive videos, relayed on social networks. The Australian tourist office, for example, has broadcast a series of 8D audio videos that plunge visitors into an immersive journey across the country.
Many museums have decided to share their collections online for free, such as the Louvre Museum, the British Museum in London, or the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
It is also possible to go on the discovery of historic monuments. Thus, during containment, the French company Art Graphique & Heritage made its applications available free of charge to allow the history of a city or a monument to be discovered, whether it is Mont-Saint-Michel or Pont d’Avignon. The company shares 360 ° videos on social networks as well as increased and virtual visits to historic sites.
Insolitic experiences made possible by virtual tourism
In addition to traveling in time and space, new technologies allow you to live new experiences. It is for example possible to take a cooking class with a great chef. As part of its #TravelTomorrow initiative, the World Tourism Organization has posted content online where leaders from around the world show how to prepare local specialties at home.
Virtual reality goes further than video to offer even more immersive experiences – an ideal technology for shows and concerts. The Virtual Helsinki project has developed a digital 3D twin from the Finnish capital. This enabled more than 700,000 Finns to meet virtually for a concert on the occasion of the national holiday on April 30, 2020, without undermining the measures put in place to stem the covid-19 pandemic.
Closer to home, the studio for creating immersive experiences in augmented reality and virtual SoWhen?, Noted by Early Metrics, is preparing a virtual concert by Jean-Michel Jarre in Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris broadcast live on December 31, 2020.
This technology also allows you to visit inaccessible places, like the experience “Chernobyl VR – A future that was lost. This is an unimaginable journey: to visit a forbidden place, that of the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and to explore it over time to find out what happened there in 1986.
The opportunity to reinvent itself: towards engaged tourism
Virtual tourism appears to be an adequate palliative in times of covid-19 crisis, but it could also provide a solution to other types of crisis. Mass tourism has caused serious environmental problems around the world and many places suffer from over-attendance.
One can for example think of the Philippines which, in 2018, decided to close for six months the paradise island of Boracay, victim of its success with tourists. Virtual reality could help reduce the number of visitors in order to preserve endangered natural sites.
Many associations are trying to raise awareness through interactive actions. This is the case of INDIA, a British startup rated by Early Metrics which develops immersive experiences in reality increased for actors of entertainment, education and advertising.
In 2013, INDIA carried out a project for WWF and Coca-Cola as part of an awareness campaign on melting ice in the Arctic. Thanks to the augmented reality, visitors to the Science Museum in London were able to approach a polar bear and its two babies and then share the photo on social media to raise public awareness.
Finally, virtual reality can be a means of saving the cultural places that pay the price of armed conflict. The French startup Iconem contributes to the conservation of threatened places by digitizing them for exploration and study. Its technology combines aerial shots with drone and 3D modeling. It has thus made it possible to reconstruct the historic cities of Palmyra and Aleppo, destroyed by the war in Syria.
The tourism sector has been using digital technologies for a long time to attract visitors to the search for unique experiences. Virtual reality offers new possibilities today. However, the helmets and equipment required are expensive and remain accessible mainly via physical points of sale. Immersive content is used largely for commercial purposes and is unlikely to ever replace the physical experience of a trip. However, virtual tourism can bring an equally rewarding parallel experience as the “real” journey.