Miguel Flecha, managing director and Accenture’s travel and hospitality practice lead in Europe, says firms need to be looking at immersive technologies and how they build realistic digital environments
Guest Post: Plotting travel's route into the metaverse continuum
The metaverse—the idea of having persistent, shared virtual worlds that we can inhabit and explore as easily as the real world—is starting to be recognised as the future of the internet.
What would this mean for the future of travel?
We need to be clear up front that there are still many questions about what the metaverse really is and how it will evolve.
But, already, we can see a continuum of early metaverse-like environments emerging, from gaming platforms like Roblox to augmented-reality consumer and employee experiences.
Customer appetite is growing
According to the Accenture Technology Vision 2022, “Meet Me in the Metaverse: The Continuum of Technology and Experience Reshaping Business,” 55% of consumers agree that more of their lives and livelihoods are moving into digital spaces.
And 54%, in a recently published Accenture survey of more than 11,000 consumers in 16 countries, said they’re interested in buying virtual entertainment, such as tickets to a concert, show or sporting event taking place in a virtual world.
But it’s not just about consumers. The metaverse continuum also promises to transform business communication, with colleagues and partners able to meet, connect, collaborate, and transact in virtual spaces, from anywhere in the physical world.
Of course, it is important to state that these kinds of experiences are in not intended to replace physical travel, rather complement.
But as people start to spend more of their time in virtual spaces—both in a personal and professional capacity—how should the travel industry respond?
Virtual company operations
The metaverse continuum has huge potential for rethinking the way companies are run.
Consider employee engagement. Virtual spaces can be ideal environments for training and learning—allowing people to develop the skills they need in infinitely repeatable exercises.
Take Dutch carrier KLM, which now offers virtual reality tours of its entire fleet of aircraft. Not only is this designed to help customers, it also has the added benefit of helping cleaning staff familiarize themselves with each cabin before starting work.
Then there’s the potential for hotels, airports and other travel companies to model their sites digitally in real time by creating digital twins of physical assets.
This enables them to monitor, simulate and analyse things like energy performance, capacity peaks and troughs, and so on, far more holistically than they can today.
Virtual customer experiences
Travel companies can also consider offering virtual or augmented reality experiences. That could include, for example, hotels giving business customers virtual tours of meeting and conference facilities to assess their suitability before an event.
On the consumer side, it could include providing virtual tourism experiences based on real-world locations. National Geographic, for example, now allows tourists to join a virtual expedition of Antarctica using the Oculus platform.
And Japan’s DNP has opened Kyoto PILUS X, allowing users to explore the city of Kyoto and experience its traditions and tourism attractions through virtual reality.
There’s a potentially large market for these kinds of experiences. Accenture’s research shows 50% of consumers are now interested in buying some kind of virtual or augmented reality travel experience—whether that’s a hotel stay, a sightseeing tour, or some other kind of travel-related service.
Broadening the customer base
There’s also an important inclusivity aspect to virtual travel. Many people who’d love to travel are unable to, whether for health or physical reasons, or because they lack the economic means to get to distant locations.
There are also customers who are concerned about their carbon footprints, and who decide not to make trips they’d otherwise like to.
Virtual tourism experiences can therefore open up the world of travel to a much broader audience. No, it’s not the same as being there for real. But the power of VR means these services can offer different kinds of travel experiences that are just as compelling in their own way.
Imagine, for example, traveling virtually to see the pyramids of Egypt, or the Colosseum in Rome, not just as they are today, but as they were at various points in history—with a digital guide providing historical insights.
That’s a really exciting prospect for any traveler, even those who are able to see the real thing.
Expanding pre-travel possibilities
Pre-travel preparation is another interesting area. Having access to a virtual 3D environment that lets you explore a room, get a sense of a hotel’s layout and environs, or see airplane seating before making a choice has very obvious benefits.
Emirates, for example, has launched an Oculus app allowing travelers to explore its first-class suites, lounge and showers. The airline has plans to enhance the service by allowing customers to book tickets within the experience.
Extending this idea to travel destinations could act as a new kind of discovery tool, sparking customers’ interest in seeing the real thing.
And just think about the peace of mind that would come from being able to use VR or AR to visualise your route through the London Underground, the Paris Metro, or any other major transport system before—or even during—your trip.
Take travel to the metaverse
As the above examples show, there’s already huge potential in enhancing company operations, complementing existing travel experiences, and expanding into new customer segments in the metaverse continuum. And the opportunity will only grow as the technology matures.
Travel companies need to be looking at immersive technologies now and considering how building digital environments that are increasingly realistic can help them create a greater connection to the physical world, and to their customers.