Are people turning to “virtual travel” as an escape from COVID restrictions?
The global COVID-19 pandemic has meant a lot less travel – particularly leisure travel. A recent study sheds light on one way that some people might be trying to adapt: virtual travel.
About the Study
Australian financial service provider and consumer protection group Compare The Market used Google Trends and SEMRush to look at how internet users are searching terms like “virtual travel”, “virtual tourism”, “VR travel”, “virtual reality tours”, and “virtual reality travel.” The popularity of some of these terms are as much as four times higher in some geographical areas than they were this time last year.
“It’s not altogether surprising what searches jumped in March 2020. That month saw many countries implement stay-at-home advice and restrictions and by the end of March most of the world was under some form of stay-at-home order,” Eliza Buglar wrote in her article on the study.
Also on the rise are searches like “virtual reality tours.” And not just in the US. The study and Buglar’s article specifically mention a number of countries across the Americas, Europe and Asia, and the Pacific Islands.
“By the end of April 2020 (the month during which SPM for ‘virtual travel’ reached their highest), many countries around the world required their people to stay at home except for essential purposes and several more had enacted total border closures,” wrote Buglar.
Doing their due-diligence, Compare The Market also explored whether searches for VR headsets were increasing. The thinking was that if searches for virtual travel were increasing but searches for headsets weren’t it could mean that people were curious but not necessarily interested.
Hardware searches were also up – though not up as drastically from where they were last year. Further, spikes in searches for VR headsets were not as pronounced or as closely tied to world events as were other search terms.
Of course, the argument isn’t that everyone who searched for VR headsets was interested in virtual travel – or vice versa. 2020 was a big year for VR headsets regardless, and the study admits this.
However, higher-than-average search volumes for both terms, including coinciding increases in each does suggest that there was some overlap.
But that doesn’t explain it all. Why all of the interest in VR hardware and virtual travel?
As we’ve seen time and again, most of the “trends that are emerging” in 2020 are really trends that were already there. The explosive growth that Compare The Market found in their study doesn’t mean that no one would be interested in VR if it wasn’t for the virus – and they’re not saying that it does.
If anything, the growing momentum in VR before the pandemic was necessary for the space to continue to grow when the pandemic arrived. VR companies that have seen growth during the pandemic often attribute that growth to the firm footing that they already had in the market.
Virtual travel, in particular, is a different story, though it is one that those with an ear to the ground might have expected. At this year’s VR/AR Global Summit one of the recurring themes was that virtual experiences are becoming more cherished. As people live more of their lives through simulated immersive experiences, the experiences become more real.
Are You Exploring Virtual Travel?
“Virtual travel” is one particular search term. But a life’s worth of work could be spent comparing VR search terms in 2020. What about “immersive theater”? Or “remote assistance”? “Remote presence”? If anything, this report only scratches the surface.