Editor: Elisa Carassai
Not that brands weren’t already considering virtual and augmented reality for the implementation of new features in their businesses. But this time, it seems to be different. This Metaverse seems to take a step further into a quite dystopian-like direction.
But let’s take a step back. What is the metaverse?
The term derives from US author Neal Stephenson’s 1992 cyberpunk novel Snow Crash. In the book, the protagonist is a hacker who is able to jump between a dystopian Los Angeles and the so-called ‘Metaverse’ - a virtual world where avatars interact. And now that Zuckerberg has introduced his plan for Facebook to shift into Meta, it increasingly seems to share some characteristics with Stephenson’s novel. However, the common goal is clear: to create increasingly engaging online environments that offer persistent spaces for working, socializing and, of course, playing. In other words, a sort of virtual reality shared online where you are represented in three dimensions through your avatar.
As Kyle Chayka aptly writes in an article for the New Yorker,
throughout the presentation, Zuckerberg is fixated on the notions of ‘presence’ and ‘shared sense of space,’ as if the metaverse could somehow provide us with a way of logging off the Internet”
the idea behind it presents itself as actually the opposite, as a way to of sucking us deeper in it.
Nevertheless this new idea which will take a while to fully develop has its many cons. Truthfully, there are many positive parameters that the digital world could offer to many industries, starting from fashion. But how could this be useful for the travel industry? After two years of lockdown, people are evidently tired of being locked up at home and will probably want to travel in person even more, and after all, certain experiences just can’t be re-constructed digitally – they have to be lived (as Iceland’s travel centre aptly explained in this satirical video here).
On the other hand, just like VR and AR are now being used to imagine developments in housing and retail, these features could potentially be used for a ‘try before you buy' feature. This means that you get to see a destination even before travelling to it.
Probably the most well-known example by now is the special feature – which was realized in collaboration with Google Arts and Culture during the first quarantine – that helped museums let visitors into museums through Google Street view and offering them a 360 view of the museum’s premises, and allowing them to click their way through corridors and rooms of the museums. One of the most spectacular ones was certainly the interactive experience created by Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Spread across 4 floors, 30,000 square meters and 80 galleries, the Rijksmuseum not only offers just one 3D virtual tour, but 8 immersive 3D virtual tours with an in-depth look at Rembrandt’s The Night Watch.
This same concept could work for hotels, and places in the same way, especially when it comes to whetting tourists’ appetites for new locations, helping travel agents book flights and hotels, and making travel more pleasant.
In Japan, a major Japanese travel company called Kinki Nippon Tourist Co., Ltd., is starting to implement digital in order to ensure booking of flights and holidays goes smoothly. Their new online service is called Tabi no abata konsherujyu (Avatar concierges for your trip) and is aimed at facilitating communication between locals and tourists, and providing exclusive tips to visitors. Users can consult with the avatar concierges and can even book their trip. The consulting fee is free, and this service is available on any computer or smartphone.The service is offered in some of Japan’s main cities, including Kyoto, Hokkaido, Okinawa Tokyo Iseshima and Hokuriku, and also offers information on cruises, and member-exclusive vacations.
But the Japanese aren’t the only ones working on ensuring tourism is brought up to speed with recent technological developments. In China, the tourist destination Zhangjiajie – a city in the southern province of Hunan – has been designated “the world’s first scenic spot metaverse research and development (R&D) centre”. The Zhangjiajie metaverse R&D centre will be set up in the Wulingyuan scenic area, a famous UNESCO World Heritage site photographs of which were used in the production of Avatar. Although it all seems quite confusing, and many locals alike are skeptical, a Wulingyuan District spokesperson has stated that Zhangjiajie Metaverse Research Centre will mainly focus on the integration and development of tourism and the metaverse and use technological innovation to drive applicable innovation and industrial innovation to cultivate new products in the tourism industry.
Who knows maybe these technologies will also help us discover more about new worlds, new planets and new galaxies – just like Access Mars, NASA’s immersive web experience in partnership with Google Creative Lab, which lets you explore Mars through an interactive page featuring some of the most important locations from the Curiosity Rover mission, key points of interest, and narration from JPL Mission Scientist Katie Stack.
Overall, and for now, few people believe that the Metaverse will ever fully replace travel, but we can definitely say that virtual reality tech can contribute to the recovery of the travel industry. After all, the possibilities of technological development are limitless.