Virtual reality is about to reshape tourism, virtual journeying is the first application. This is made possible thanks to completely immersive virtual reality headsets, 360-degree 3D video filming and audio which provide extreme realism. Cameras capture all aspects and angles, mikes, sophisticated audio algorithms and moving sounds ensure the brain is tricked and thinks it’s really in a different place. It’s like being on a journey, so the term virtual journeying, because in reality you are in your living room.
Of course the technology is not 100% there, but it’s improving fast; for example the slightest bit of tearing or visible stitching in the result can ruin the illusion for users; we didn’t find a way yet to replicate temperature (imagine an exotic beach or a Siberian landscape it’s displayed) or the effect of wind on the skin, and there are still some balance disorders issues (about nausea and equilibrium) to be solved. But keep in mind computers are every day more powerful and an army of scientists and developers are tackling all issues: every month, realistic virtual journeying is closer.
The benefits for the consumer can be significant as he would only have to pay for the headsets and any access fee to have a realistic trial of a distant place or a location like an hotel, a museum or a plane. In a morning, I can sneak a peak into a couple of destinations I want to check before booking my (real) future summer holidays, visit from the inside a few hotels I have to select for my company annual meeting, or spend an hour into the Vatican Museums in Rome and if any time is left, have my daily workout, one hour cycling down the coast out of San Diego California in front of the ocean. Wow.
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Once again, this is not just theory, some companies are already pioneering this concept. Marriott, the global hotel chain, let guests sample virtual destinations (Hawaii and London) with the Oculus Rift; they designed a nice cabin called “teleporter” and added also the “perfume” effect to provide a 4D experience. Find more at their page dedicated to this experiment.
They are not alone, Thomas Cook, one of the UK’s largest package holiday companies, is launching trial virtual reality in one of their concept stores, offering potential customers virtual tour of a resort in Mallorca using the Oculus Rift headset and possibility to choose the seat on their planes “from the inside”. This “Look before you book” initiative is well described here. If this is not virtual journeying, it means we’re almost there.
Is this a threat for conventional tourism? Some say this will reduce travel and related emissions, I think that, at the beginning, this emerging tech will act as a teaser to travel, before real purchasing, but then it will evolve in something different, available for the masses, because prices (of both headsets and access to virtual locations) will decrease and because new features will come in; I can for example visit a town far away AND virtually meet a person (or his / her avatar) who is virtual journeying in the same place; in other words, “social” and “virtual journeying” together should be more interesting than each of them alone. If you then imagine to add ecommerce features (why not buying that fancy Italian shoes directly into the shop of the craftsman I’m visiting right now in Florence…) into the recipe, you have a powerful scenario which is much wider than travel alone! If you’re not convinced or satisfied yet, just think you will be able to select a location in the present, past or even future, but that’s another story. Oh no… they’ve already done this as well… historical journeying, find more at this link.
Newsletter: because there’s more than virtual journeying here!
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