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Virtual Tourism in a Post-COVID World

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During the time of quarantines and lockdowns, we quickly realized the unfortunate impossibility for major travel. The crave for travel grew stronger, the tourism industry struggled, and meanwhile… the tech industry boomed. As a result, a $5 billion industry emerged: Virtual reality (VR) tourism or “virtual tourism”.

What is virtual tourism?

Virtual reality tourism (a.k.a. “virtual tourism”) utilizes 360 degree virtual reality technology to mimic and create travel experiences, allowing users to instantly teleport themselves from the comfort of their own living room. Completely surrounded by the sights and sounds of faraway lands, virtual tourists find themselves immersed in settings as if they were really there.

Yielding the ability to travel anywhere, at any time, virtual tourism is about as

close as you can get to having superpowers. As Meta CEO and virtual reality visionary Mark Zuckerberg notes,

“We should be teleporting, not transporting ourselves.”

So forget the hassle of enduring 10+ hour international flights and bus rides to every landmark, and instead try out the new reality that is teleportation.

© Jessica Lewis Creative

Virtual tourism alongside physical travel

During the pandemic, virtual tourism offered a robust temporary travel solution that paralleled the real deal. Now, as physical travel becomes increasingly feasible, should we expect to see virtual tourism die down? Not in the slightest. Market Data Forecast predicts that the global virtual tourism market will grow to become a $24.10 billion market by 2027, a 482% overall increase from 2021.

Many argue that virtual tourism can never truly offer the same experience as

traditional travel. And perhaps it can’t. However, in the short time it has existed in combination with in-person travel, it has demonstrated a variety of its own benefits: (1) making travel more accessible, (2) allowing to “try before you buy,” and (3) “enhancing physical travel experiences.”

Making travel more accessible

Only needing a VR headset and travel content (via an application or streaming

service), virtual tourists can visit their dream destinations for just a fraction of the cost. With VR headsets becoming more popular, and content becoming more abundant, virtual tourism is increasingly an accessible, cost-effective travel option. With the added element of instantaneous teleportation, it’s incredibly time-effective as well. Go to Greece on your lunch break!

© Atlantic Productions

For your next virtual tour, think beyond major landmarks. In just minutes, you can take a dive in the Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough, or witness an elephant migration in the Okavango Delta. Virtual tourism offers the ability to travel to areas that would otherwise be difficult or dangerous to access. When many people go their entire lifetimes without experiencing these places, virtual tourism presents a uniquely accessible opportunity.

By downloading the National Geographic VR app, for example, users can kayak in Antarctica or trek through the Inca temples of Machu Picchu with all senses immersed, creating a cinematic experience. The Zion Narrows Experience also offers a navigable VR experience inside the Zion National Park in Utah. More experiences offered for the Oculus Quest or Oculus Go include ecosphere, Gala360, VR Gorilla, and Alcove as well as travel experiences to destinations such as Venice, Georgia, Tallinn, and the Great Barrier Reef.

© National Geographic, Force Field Entertainment B.V.

Allowing to “try before you buy”

Looking to go on a trip but can’t decide where? Virtual tourism allows users to

preview potential travel destinations ahead of time. It’s a drastic improvement in travel research from just photos and videos — providing you with advanced

background knowledge and context to better enjoy your trip, while still leaving many intricacies that can only be found in person.

Market Data Forecast notes the “try before you buy” use case as one of the

primary market drivers for virtual tourism. The use of virtual reality for travel

planning was recognized even prior to the pandemic by a variety of travel-related agencies and tourism companies, though more recent advancements in VR tech and the availability of content has further supported this application.

© Specterras Productions LLC

Enhancing physical travel experiences

Branching out from the VR aspects of virtual tourism to AR as well, you can

enhance your travel experiences, rather than replace them. Using just a phone

camera, you can instantly translate signs or restaurant menus in a foreign

language, or scan a skeleton of an extinct animal in a museum to see what it

looked like back in the day. Google Lens and Google Translate both allow you to scan and translate street signs, maps, guides, and menus in real-time and provide an augmented reality overlay of the translation in tens of languages. Google Maps also uses AR to make navigation more convenient by placing big virtual signs on top of real-world roads.

© Smithsonian Institution

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By Grace Conard

echo3D (www.echo3D.co; Techstars ’19) is a cloud platform for 3D/AR/VR that provides tools and network infrastructure to help developers & companies quickly build and deploy 3D apps, games, and content.