If the possibility that people might stop travelling in the ‘real’ world and instead take ‘metaverse’ holidays seems slightly far-fetched to you, then consider this: in January 2020 did you think the whole world could move into the virtual office within just few a weeks?
Whilst people are returning to offices slowly, they’re not yet going on many business trips. And could you imagine what might happen to travel if environmental concerns many scientists say will happen, actually do? In such a scenario, a virtual holiday doesn’t sound so crazy.
Nonetheless, leaving COVID and an environmental catastrophe aside, it does seem that we are many years (or more) away from any kind of advanced metaverse that could offer an alternative to a holiday: i.e. a 3D, augmented reality world in which people could participate and explore by beaming themselves around instantly.
Not least because the technology needed to do this properly – namely those 3D googles you might have tried at a funfair – aren’t anywhere near practical for everyday life.
So we can just ignore the whole thing and come back in ten years? No. In the more immediate term the metaverse is still a threat, but not because people might go on virtual holidays just yet.
There’s a lot that tourism destinations should be thinking about right now in order to not miss the boat. That’s because to some extent the metaverse has already arrived. Yes, think of virtual reality video gaming, crypto currencies, satnavs on smart phones, or immersive online shopping experiences.
Virtual tour businesses have already been in action for some years, many hotels or destinations even allow you to explore them in 3D, and there’s an explosion of interest in accepting crypto currencies too.
A big question for many is whether or not to claim yourself ‘real estate’ in the metaverse. Already plots of virtual land are selling for six figure sums. A bit like when people bought up domain names, it seems there’s a land grab going on.
Why might you want a presence in the metaverse though, surely you want people to come to your actual destination? The thinking would be that you’d use your presence in the metaverse as a showcase for your destination, kind of like a super-duper website. Imagine letting people wander your streets, peek into the restaurants, explore potential hotels and more.
Just think about the sales and booking experiences too: your metaverse could act like a showroom, converting you into an all-in-one tourism bureau, travel agent and customer service team. Bots or remote working teams could be answering questions, providing people with tips, finding them deals, resolving their problems, and more.
This will of course require new tools and technologies to track engagement, measure your reputational impact, interact with your audience and so on. Doubtless Google and Facebook advertising will be even more necessary than now. A whole new mindset will be required in time.
Sounds daunting, scary even? Don’t worry too much, you don’t have to go out and hire 10,000 people to build your metaverse like Facebook is doing. But any smart destination strategy needs to start considering all of this and more, in order to inspire people to both visit and come back to your destination.
Ironically, in this this world of alternative realities you have no alternative: join or your destination will eventually cease to exist.