What is Virtual Tourism and how is it backing the Tourism Sector?
The global tourism and hospitality industry is severely affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. A pandemic impacts the tourism industry the most as it involves traveling of people from one place to another. History has witnessed that epidemics and pandemics have an immediate impact on the hotels and restaurants, airlines industries, travel agencies, etc., due to the international travel restrictions, media coverage and government measures.
World Bank shows that the cost to the global economy of SARS is projected to have been US$54 billion. At the same time, the organisation foresees that a ‘severe flu pandemic’ could cost more than US$3 trillion, roughly 5% of global GDP.
Coronavirus outbreak has devastated in such a way that the travel and tourism sectors cannot expect to resume to pre-pandemic levels until 2024. How can the industry cope up with these damages?
Well, with the latest advanced technologies like virtual reality (VR) technology, airlines, travel agencies, and tourism boards can attract and engage prospective customers. “VR is going to change the way both many of the things we do today and some new and important areas are transformed like tourism,” opines Shaun Collins, CEO of CCS Insight.
Virtual reality immerses users in a computer-generated and interactive 3D environment. It may involve use of various props. Users may be needed to wear gloves and there may be other sensations like movement (i.e. in a rollercoaster simulator), feeling (i.e. if the user is sprayed with water) and smell. In other words, VR emulates the physical world by escalating one or more of users’ senses and tricking the brain into feeling like it’s right there in the virtual world. It could act like augmented reality and 360-degree photography to give a taste of virtual tourism. Several examples listed below prove that companies have already technology like VR to offer virtual tours to users as well as to revive the travel and tourism industry.
• Berlin-based io, for example, is a startup which has developed a platform to transport people to historical sites around the globe through VR explorable in photorealistic quality.
• Another startup is Jaunt VR that produces 360-degree films, shows, documentaries, tours on their app all in VR. Users can pick any one among 20 different channels. If a user picks among the Redwood National Park, San Francisco Giants, it will unveil the secrets of Machu Picchu.
• YouVisit, founded in 2009, is an online virtual tourism platform that allows travel companies to make and share 360-degree photos and VR tours with 1000+ pieces of interactive VR experiences.
• Ascape is another VR application for travel which reduces your work by sorting out contents for you. Countries such as Australia and North Korea organise contests, activities (Rio Carnival), spiritual journeys, underwater shoots, guided tours, and also from tourism giants like Thomas Cook, JetBlue etc.
It’s unlikely that most of the companies pushing through virtual reality tourist experiences intend to replace physical tourism. For the most cases, VR tourism will be harnessed as yet another digital marketing device.
One the other hand, as the world realises the potential of VR and its varied applications in different industries, including travel, retail, and automotive, India is also witnessing a similar trend. Although VR was relegated for only a gaming greek, it is now gradually ending up with the tourism sector, explicitly experimenting and testing out its fascinating potential.
India in 2017 generated US$210 billion in revenue from the tourism sector that accounted for 9.5% of India’s GDP. Today there is a mindset shift during COVID-19 circumstances. India is also improving its travel scenario beyond just recreation to make it a lifestyle choice.