for a generalization of virtual travel?

The metaverse occupies an increasingly important place in the media landscape. While some are cautious or refractory, others see this technological development as an opportunity to develop new offerings. Tourism is a sector that largely evolves depending on information and communication technologies, so it is quite relevant to question how it can integrate this virtual universe. And it is since the announcement of the creation of the Meta group by Mark Zuckerberg that this term has spread massively in the world. The metaverse can be defined as a set of virtual spaces, persistent, shared, indexed in the real world and accessible via 3D interaction.

So how could the metaverse take over tourism, a practice that requires physical travel?

Do tourism and technology go hand in hand?

There is a clear correlation between the evolution of tourism and that of technologies, which always go hand in hand. Indeed, from computerized reservation centers in the 1970s to the domestication of the Internet in the late 1990s, technology has always been embedded in tourism to bring new practices to light. The metaverse is part of this evolution of the Internet, which uses increasingly immersive technologies to offer phygital experiences, that is, where the boundaries between the real and the virtual are increasingly permeable.

Whether in museums, national parks or heritage sites, the health crisis has also allowed many actors to increase and sustain the use of technological tools to offer virtual reality tours. The Fly Over Zone app, in addition to offering an exploration of World Heritage cultural sites, allows for the digital restoration of damaged sites. The web giant Amazon launched “Amazon Explore” to literally “travel virtually around the world”. This commercial component is an interactive live streaming service, which they say lets you discover new places from your computer. If this offering is still in its infancy, with a beta version, it’s a safe bet that this virtual tour service will evolve to offer even more immersive formats.

In terms of tourism, Asia is a pioneer with proposals that are already very advanced, such as the “Seoul Metaverse” project, which aims to become the first major city in the world to enter the metaverse, with a tourist itinerary that will reproduce the main places to visit the City. But it is in France that we find one of the most successful projects with MoyaLand: a virtual tourist universe, built as a virtual and immersive artistic reproduction that has a tourist office, museums, airport, historic center where residents and tourists can evolve virtually through of your avatars.

Other tourism players can follow suit because, according to the American company Gartner, by 2026, 25% of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse. So, how will these people experience tourism in this virtual environment?

The metaverse to encourage travel

There are two main trends to define the tourist experience: the first concerns the order of the process with the transformation of the world into knowledge, the second concerns the moment lived with a central place given to hedonism and the feeling of success. If, by definition, tourism requires physical travel, there is in fact a contradiction with the tourist experiences offered by the metaverse, which can, however, replace it, but above all arouse the desire to travel.

Remember that virtual reality is an immersive environment created through a technological device that provides the user with digitally created sensations such as vision, hearing, touch and even smell. To awaken their senses in the virtual tourist areas of the metaverse, users will therefore have to be equipped with visual, sound, tactile, tactile and olfactory devices. In addition to the cost of acquiring them, the use of these new devices calls into question the perception of the senses that man has with his environment.

When reproducing a tourist decoration, the metaverse forms a whole between the device, the user who puts himself in the tourist’s place and the other spectators. Although the experience is virtual, the senses are put to good use when stimulating certain situations that are desired but not accessible at the moment. By allowing an immersive practice, the virtual reality helmet or haptic sensors would make it possible to experience things that were hitherto intangible and to reconnect with sensoriality. Through his avatar, the user of the metaverse can embody a tourist by virtually building a visit itinerary, interacting with other avatars and, therefore, imagining what he feels, stimulating what Giacomo Rizzolatti calls mirror neurons.

Social and environmental restrictions

Imitated, reproduced or simulated, it remains only that travel and vacations represent tourist practices that represent a break with everyday life. These moments are also an opportunity for some to meet their loved ones or to engage in activities that are difficult to do in the normal course of life. Watching animals during a safari, discovering archaeological sites or practicing a foreign language are activities that produce unique, essential and different bodily and spiritual sensations from those virtually produced by the devices of the metaverse.

Read more: Parallel Universes and Virtual Worlds: The Metaverse War Has Begun

Furthermore, the metaverse, which is itself a technological evolution of the Internet, is not yet complete. It requires financial investment and the construction of a regulatory framework to regulate user behavior. Because when Mark Zuckerberg wants to create a virtual and alternative world in which users can also travel, we must not lose sight of the fact that it is also the user’s data that will be used. And if some see the metaverse as a solution to avoid flying and move towards sustainable tourism, the digital pollution induced by it could go in the opposite direction of virtuous tourism.

Even if tourism in the metaverse cannot replace a tourist experience lived away from home, certain tourism professionals could benefit from it to make known places that are not easily accessible or ignored by tourists, who will discover them virtually.

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