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Metavers, another step towards the tourism of tomorrow ? - Part 1

Digital technology is omnipresent in our daily lives, particularly with the rise of new technologies that are increasingly immersive and sophisticated. If virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence have revolutionised the way we use technology and have found their way into many sectors of activity such as tourism and hospitality, what will happen with the metaverse? While this new immersive world is still in development, its impact on our industry is already well underway. How will it impact the sector in the medium and long term?

A trendy buzz word

Metaverse has been one of the most heard words of 2022 and its hype is not likely to subside anytime soon given the craze it generates. Nevertheless, according to Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Tourisme, only 20% of French people know exactly what it is and 17% have already experienced it, mainly young men. Based on this observation, can we suggest that this new web will only be used by a small percentage of the world's population?

Nothing is less certain, since according to the research firm Gartner, 25% of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse for work, shopping, education, social networking and/or entertainment by 2026.

Another study conducted by Technavio shows that the global metaverse market size in the travel and tourism industry is estimated to be $188.24 billion between 2021 and 2026, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 26.01% during the forecast period. North America will also account for a 37% share of the global market growth.

So will the future consist of people spending more time connected and immersed in the metaverse rather than the physical world? Not necessarily, according to José Ramón Ubieto, a psychoanalyst and lecturer at the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences at the UOC. In fact, he believes that the arrival of this hybrid world between the physical and the digital will demonstrate the importance of face-to-face contact and that all these new technologies "will favour socialisation, company in cases of unwanted solitude, learning, entertainment, etc.".

Furthermore, the world of learning is increasingly interested in the metaverse, following the example of the Excelia school, which offered its 3rd year Bachelor Tourism & Hospitality Management students a course taking place entirely in the asynchronous metaverse "Red Alert! The students were put in charge of a hotel operator complex and had to manage a crisis situation in compliance with the regulations and intervention procedures previously studied in class.

At the same time, the Meta group (formerly Facebook) launched its very first Meta Academies in several major French cities. The aim is to open up the metaverse professions to a wide range of profiles and to make up for the lack of candidates in order to build an inclusive and social metaverse in fine. The group is said to be investing more than 3 billion dollars per quarter in the metaverse and training is part of this.

What use is it to the tourism sector?

The metaverse will become widespread sooner or later, but one question remains on everyone's lips: what can it bring to the tourism sector? According to Sophie Lacour, Managing Director of Advanced Tourism, "the metaverse will not be a substitute for tourism, but a support", allowing the emergence of new offers, either as a complement to existing ones or offers that are only viable in a digital environment.

A sentiment shared by Diego Heredia, Head of Corporate Strategic Projects at Amadeus, who explains that the metaverse could complement and open up new ways of enjoying the travel experience. Ultimately, it could become a new distribution channel offering physical or blended travel, with more personalised inspiration and search levers, thanks to real-time information and enriched data. This method will become increasingly popular as a way to try out more expensive items such as luxury cruises according to the latest Amadeus report. 

Perhaps a real trip to Egypt could be accompanied by a virtual trip back in time to the height of the ancient Egyptian civilisation? Or why not book a trip to the moon? 

Diego Heredia, Head of Corporate Strategic Projects, Amadeus

Indeed, the metaverse could be used, among other things, to plan holidays or even test them in advance. This is underlined by the latest study conducted by Booking in which 43% of respondents said they would use virtual reality to plan their holidays, while 35% would like to book a multi-day virtual reality experience next year to replace their usual holiday options.

In addition, 4,574 of those surveyed said they would only travel to a new location if they had already experienced it virtually. Many see potential benefits, including the ability to view hotel rooms, conference spaces, restaurants and attractions, as well as the ability to ask questions and make arrangements virtually.

The survey also found that younger generations, particularly Generation Y and Z, were more likely to consider using the metaverse to plan their travel. This is important information since, according to the Digital Tourism think tank, 40% of current consumers in the tourism industry are from generation Z. A generation which, moreover, is expressing new needs and requirements which the metaverse could meet. Moreover, being "digital natives", people of this generation no longer really dissociate the real from the digital and are therefore quite comfortable with the idea of having a tourism experience that combines the two.

However, despite the potential of virtual travel experiences, 64% of respondents still believe that a face-to-face visit is necessary to cross a destination off their wish list.

Visit destinations from your living room

It is no longer a secret that many destinations have been entering the metaverse for some time now. One of the first to take the plunge was the Spanish city of Benidorm, with the launch of "Benidorm Land", the metaverse that reproduces in virtual reality the 1.8 km of Levante beach. The metaverse is Visit Benidorm's new commitment to attract tourists in the long term, between 5 and 10 years, between generations Z and Alpha, "very used to these virtual environments through video games".

Spain seems to be particularly interested in this new technological advance as the city of Malaga will also soon be present in the metaverse. Indeed, thanks to the installation of more than 200 cameras in the city, "Malaga is starting to be in the different metavers that exist". Jonathan Gómez, the city's General Director of Tourism and Promotion, points out that they are going even further by creating "a digital twin of the city centre, so that people can, for example, discover Picasso's Malaga and at the same time recount the artist's life, with a capacity of 15,000 people at a time. The Picasso Museum will also be in the metaverse, with all the authorisations for the collections".

AlUla, a relatively new tourist destination in Saudi Arabia, is also taking its first steps into the metaverse with a fully immersive, full-scale 3D model of the tomb of Hegra of Lihyan, son of Kuza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Created in the digital landscape of Decentraland, the AlUla monument will be accessible to virtual tourists who can explore it from anywhere in the world. It has become the first UNESCO World Heritage site in the metaverse. In particular, virtual visitors will be able to access parts of the site that are not accessible to visitors in the real world. 

RCU's entry into the metaverse is a groundbreaking development in virtual reality innovation and tourism that connects the world to the wonders of AlUla. A new frontier for innovation and collaboration, our debut, which also sees the first UNESCO World Heritage Site enter the metaverse, represents an exciting evolution of AlUla's unique heritage, acting as an open invitation to travellers, academics and digital explorers to connect and experience AlUla like never before. 

Amr AlMadani, Director General of the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU)

If the metaverse allows you to discover places or parts of places that are inaccessible in the real world, it also allows you to visit sites that no longer exist. This is an opportunity that the Tuvalu archipelago, located in the Pacific Ocean, which is threatened with submersion by 2100, wishes to seize by creating its digital twin in the metaverse to maintain an existence, even if virtual. While the metaverse will never entirely replace travel, it does allow for the discovery of places that are no longer accessible or no longer exist. Visitors to the future will thus be able to "remember Tuvalu as it is, before it disappears".

There are as many uses for the metaverse as there are different tourist destinations around the world. While it is not intended to replace real-world travel for good, it is a real alternative and a very useful complement for territories that could use it to increase their visibility and publicise their assets. It remains to be seen what uses travellers of the future will make of it.

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