Media & Services > Virtual and Augmented Reality Blog

Where is the VR tourism?

by David MacQueen | 12月 24, 2020

Travel and tourism have been sectors which have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Seeing how XR has transformed some other industries, accelerated by necessity (such as in the healthcare vertical), I went looking for VR alternatives for a virtual vacation. I was surprised to find a real lack of activity and innovation in an industry that could arguably benefit most from taking up new opportunities.

Take one of the largest travel providers, Expedia. I've certainly had no shortage of promotional emails from them and they've clearly ramped up their marketing in an attempt to continue to generate revenue... but I'm not going to be booking a holiday with them or anyone else at the moment. I have no certainty over being able to actually take the holiday I have booked. Expedia itself doesn't even seem to have come up with any kind of strategy to address this - examining their "offer" of no change fees or flexible bookings, these offers are actually the hotel or airline's own offers, Expedia itself is offering nothing. So, an increased frequency of spam emails and a banner on the front page to highlight "offers" that aren't even their own seems to be the limit of the company's efforts to re-engineer its business to cope with the pandemic.

Expedia is hardly alone in its startling lack of innovation and, frankly, old-fashioned thinking. All of the major travel companies seem similarly frozen in shock and lacking ideas to respond to the crisis facing their industry. I wanted to highlight Expedia because the company had previously been an early investor in VR, with marketing apps allowing you to explore potential destinations, and viewing a hotel room in VR as part of the booking process. But the app hasn't been updated since it launched in 2018, and despite the VR hotel room feature being announced in 2017, it has never gone live on the site. Also, Expedia are owned by Microsoft, no stranger to XR. Microsoft's range of VR headsets had a 3% market share in 2019, and it also manufactures the HoloLens, arguably the top AR headset today in terms of functionality. If they can't do it, what hope for the rest of the industry?

As is often the case, it's the smaller innovators that are showing the big laggards how it's done - although it's worth noting that I did struggle to find even a small handful of positive examples in a multi-billion dollar industry facing its biggest crisis ever. One example is Travel World VR, which specializes in creating VR videos for travel companies. They've seen a big increase in their business since the pandemic. However, as I highlighted with Expedia, these videos are primarily for marketing. They're not really helping the industry today, but helping it get better prepared for a time when travel opens up again.

What could (and in my opinion should) be happening in VR tourism today? Something like Amazon Explore is a very interesting play. Offering virtual (although not VR) experiences such as live, hosted walking tours and cooking lessons, this is potentially a lifeline for the tourism industry. Not simply marketing to an audience unlikely to buy, but offering a real chance to generate revenue again and to provide consumers with an enjoyable experience they can enjoy right now from their sofa. VR would be a perfect match here, and I hope Amazon adds that functionality soon; that could really shake things up.

The best example I could find of an actual VR experience that I could enjoy now, and which is generating revenue for a struggling industry today, is from Finnair - the official airline of Santa Claus, no less! Starting tomorrow (Christmas Day, of course) Finnair is offering VR flights and holidays in Lapland. These are replacing the package of flights and stay at the town of Rovaniemi (Santa's home town), a package which in previous ears has been an in-person experience. The only downside I can see is that "participants might even see a familiar festive character sharing their journey in one of the other seats" - sitting next to a noisy fat man on a flight is one of the few things I DON'T miss about air travel! I'm joking, of course - I feel it's experiences like this that could be really transformative to travel now and in the future.
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