The future of the travel industry is unpredictable – Star Trek did make us believe we would be able to teleport by now. The introduction of the 3D augmented-reality environment known as the Metaverse may see the future of travel looking even more different than anticipated. How different? With influence extending into almost every sector, this new net environment is one that the travel industry should embrace – especially in navigating the ever-changing circumstances of the pandemic.
A Pioneering Force for Travel Equity
The basis of travel has always been to diversify our experiences; therefore, it is ironic that this industry is behind the curve when it comes to diversity and inclusion. For starters, the travel industry has not been inclusive of those who are physically or financially unable to travel – a whopping 42% of Americans forewent travel due to financial constraints in 2019. Instead of debating the obvious, let’s question the possibilities – why is this relevant to the Metaverse? The Metaverse represents an opportunity to create tourism equity by offering a fractional escape – anyone would be able to experience different locales in an immersive way, without having to leave their situation or face significant costs. The world loves, wants, and needs to travel. During the pandemic, where international travel will continue to be muted for the foreseeable future, the Metaverse can allow anyone to travel virtually, regardless of country-specific restrictions – visiting a child away at school, hosting a virtual family vacation, and reuniting with a long-distance partner is all possible in the Metaverse. Let’s take it a step further; the Metaverse has the power to help overcome the limitations to ethnic diversity that exist in a 2D world. Due to poor minority representation in the travel industry, past attempts at ethnic diversity have been inherently racist and stereotypical – isn’t it obvious that offering ethnicity-specific experiences such as visiting communities that feature high concentrations of a given group is three steps back, not forward? The Metaverse offers complete autonomy to travel and explore any and all corners of a given city without stereotypical parameters – instead of having a minority experience in New York, you can have a New York experience as a minority.
More Bang for Your Buck: Upping the Ante for Luxury Travel
Being an immersive, sensory experience, the Metaverse can amplify the luxury travel industry in more ways than one. How, you may ask? In some respects, luxury travel has become more ‘mass’ due to social media exposure. While unparalleled service remains, an increasing number of people from all walks of life express interest in luxury travel. The Metaverse can introduce luxury travel to groups who typically cannot afford it. By engaging users through luxury services that cannot be captured through photos – what if you could actually experience a hotel room; enjoy a restaurant; participate in a virtual cooking course with executive chefs; and receive unparalleled care from personal butlers? Consumers would be able to understand “why luxury” and comprise a new aspirational segment of potential future customers. For existing customers, the Metaverse heightens the luxury experience by providing the means for informed decision-making. The Metaverse would further elevate experiences by flattening the trial-and-error process involved in any travel by providing users with the opportunity to, for example, sample multiple first class seats, car services, or luxury hotels prior to booking. Luxury travelers would continue making a single choice, however, the Metaverse would make it an informed choice. This is one situation where you can have your cake, and eat it too.
Embracing Immersive Marketing
Economic Development Councils (EDC), which act as tourism and development authorities for their respective cities, can leverage the Metaverse as a marketing tool by using it to offer virtual experiences to attract deputation tourism for those looking to relocate; investment tourism for those looking to invest or expand a business; and education tourism for those looking to move for educational purposes. Let’s continue to explore this by introducing the idea of bringing a trade mission to the city, rather than organizing a trade mission to go abroad. In this way, EDCs can influence these decisions by putting their city’s best foot forward to a global audience, while users would be able to preview a city and determine its suitability for their given lifestyle before committing to it. The Metaverse can and will introduce immense revenue opportunities by virtually offering attractions and events that may struggle to attract visitors during the extended pandemic period and post-pandemic. It has already been used to host concerts, featuring both known and new artists, to overcome pandemic limitations. Now, what about the offline capabilities? The virtual platform can also serve the function of acting as a testing ground for new initiatives prior to bringing any proposed changes offline. Doing so virtually eliminates the risk of new projects and allows EDCs to collect more personalized and specific data to better understand the preferences and behaviors of customers. Ultimately, this would allow brands to curate experiences that consumers would find more pleasurable online.
Opportunities for Rebranding
The Metaverse can offer destinations once seen as undesirable a second chance. What does this mean? It can provide a unique opportunity for the EDCs of unpopular tourist destinations to reinvent themselves by creating virtual attractions such as NFT galleries to drive virtual tourism and rebrand the personality of any city. Lesser known locations can leverage the Metaverse as a tool for marketing by becoming known for impressive virtual attractions which, in turn, could generate increased offline interest and tourist traffic. In the vein of rebranding, the Metaverse could be used as a tool to attract the younger demographic. Wouldn’t this reason alone be enough to convert the Metaverse skeptics? Being an extension of social media, creating a presence within the Metaverse can allow hotels, cities, and businesses that want to change the demographic of people that visit to remain current and influence the experiences of Metaverse participants to change their perceptions of different locales.
The Metaverse puts the tourism industry’s best foot forward – it can help locations that are expensive become accessible; unknown become popular; mature become young; young become mature. Beyond acting as a tool for rebranding and advanced marketing, the Metaverse can address deep-rooted issues by bridging the gap in travel inequity and introducing opportunities for true diversity in tourism. While there is much to learn about the Metaverse, the opportunity it holds is unprecedented.
[7 Min Read]