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How will VR, XR, and Web3 enrich the tourism industry?

The metaverse could enrich the tourism experience in countless unprecedented, innovative ways—but which use cases have the most potential, and which are still deemed risky? Early adopters have already started experimenting, and several trends have emerged. Virtual elements can be layered onto an established business:

  • In the wake of the fire that damaged the famous cathedral in 2019, French start-up Histovery produced an augmented exhibition on the history of Notre Dame de Paris—motivated partly by increased awareness of the fragility of physical landmarks. To navigate the exhibition, each visitor uses a “HistoPad” touch screen to take an immersive tour that allows interaction with physical elements: giant photographs, 3-D models of statues, replica flooring and stained glass, and audio of Notre Dame’s organs and bells. Effects include animation and a virtual scavenger hunt for younger visitors.
  • In December 2021, faced with record staff turnover, MGM Resorts International decided to apply a virtual solution. In partnership with immersive platform provider Strivr, MGM developed VR headsets that give aspirant front-of-house staff a realistic sense of what working at MGM casinos and hotels entail. The training package was rolled out at the company’s properties in 2022. It’s designed to speed up onboarding and upskilling, increase employee confidence, and familiarize potential hires with MGM procedures and culture.

Other virtual platforms allow visitors to explore major global landmarks, incorporating rich edutainment and retail opportunities. Several such initiatives have been launched:

  • Responding to pandemic travel restrictions, ZEPETO World is a smartphone app that allows users to create personal avatars and travel around Korea. For example, the tour includes a highly detailed interactive map of Han River Park; this feature gets almost 257,000 visitors a day. Users are also able to communicate with each other, shop, and watch performances. ZEPETO World has approximately 190 million members.
  • The BCB Group—a leading crypto banking group—has created a metaverse city that includes representations of some of the most visited destinations in the world, such as the Great Wall of China and the Statue of Liberty. According to BCB, the total cost of flights, transfers, and entry for all these landmarks would come to $7,600—while a virtual trip would cost just over $2.
  • Saudi Arabia’s Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) recently announced that the ancient city of Hegra had entered the metaverse, in line with a national program to drive technological transformation and innovation. It is the first UNESCO World Heritage Site to be placed in the metaverse, allowing digital tourists to explore the surroundings as well as Hegra’s Tomb of Lihyan son of Kuza.

Instead of attempting to replicate real-world experiences, entirely novel environments can also be created, convening people in a single immersive space—as in multiplayer online games. (Indeed, many people currently associate the metaverse largely with games.) The travel industry can harness this utility too.

This is particularly relevant to the meeting, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) sector, with virtual gatherings, exhibitions, and trade fairs looking to become mainstream.

These allow people to gather and take part in activities in the same immersive space while connecting from anywhere. This dramatically reduces travel, venue, catering, and other costs, while avoiding setbacks like adverse weather conditions or disease scares. For example, one Japanese start-up recently held a virtual market that attracted a wide response, with around 60 well-known companies participating.