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Metavers, another step towards the tourism of tomorrow? - Part 2

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 to 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?

To (re)discover the first part of this analysis on the impact of the development of metavers on the tourism and hospitality sector, click here.

Staying in the metaverse, the future of hospitality?

Although tourist destinations are already taking hold of the metaverse, they are not the only ones. The hotel sector is also showing an interest in this new universe, which offers countless opportunities. Javier Delgado, co-managing partner at Mirai, believes that "metavers and virtual reality represent the future of the business of hotel operators".

As with destinations, the metaverse could allow travellers to visit and test hotels during their selection to avoid unpleasant surprises on the day. Currently, choices are based on photos, descriptive texts and the opinions of other customers, which are all subjective criteria, whereas the metaverse would allow customers to form their own opinion beforehand. This would therefore constitute a real improvement in the customer experience and ultimately in customer satisfaction.

Several groups are venturing into this new universe, such as citizenM, which is the first hotel operator to buy LAND in the Sandbox, a digital property on the Ethereum blockchain. The aim at the moment is to sell NFTs and the sale of these will eventually fund a real-world hotel in a location voted for by NFT holders. 

The metaverse is a further acceleration of a dynamic that has been emerging for years, in which our digital and real lives merge. It is a dynamic that the traditional hotel industry is not responding to adequately. It is our responsibility to meet our guests where they are. 

Robin Chadha, Marketing Director, citizenM

While hotels in the metaverse can be an expensive marketing tactic, NFTs offer tangible rewards to owners and hotel brands alike by bridging the gap between the real and virtual worlds. Other hotels are also taking advantage of this new technology. Manhattan's NoMo Soho, for example, sells NFTs redeemable for three- to six-night stays and upgrades.

The LEVEN brand also moved into the metaverse last autumn through a new partnership with investment vehicle Branco Capital. The brand, whose first physical property opened in Manchester last year, will introduce its virtual hotel in the Fashion Street Estate of the virtual world Decentraland. 

We see the metaverse as an opportunity to connect with new audiences and bring like-minded people together in a space created with LEVEN values in mind. It has everything that makes LEVEN special in real life, but in a bigger way: inspiring design, unexpected moments of whimsy and opportunities to make meaningful connections. 

Timothy Griffin, co-founder of LEVEN

Few French groups have dared to take the plunge, with the exception of Accor and Louvre Hotels Group, which are "still in their infancy" according to Pauline Oster, Director of Management Operations at Accor. According to her, "there are still obstacles in terms of ergonomics, use of headsets and Wi-Fi stability". Nevertheless, both groups claim that the meta-verse will help to create a brand experience and even "transcend the customer experience". 

I don't think it makes sense to sell rooms in the metaverse. On the other hand, it is possible to gamify the experience by proposing quests for example.

Nicolas Paepegaey, Chief Transformation Officer at Louvre Hotels Group

The ibis Styles brand has also made a remarkable entry into the metaverse with its virtual art gallery featuring digital creators from around the world. NFTs from all artists associated with the ibis Styles 2022 Open to Creators campaign are shared in this virtual gallery, also offering followers on Instagram the opportunity to win their own NFTs.

In June 2022, the Riu Plaza España became the first Spanish hotel to open in the metaverse and recently the virtual property hosted its first major event. Indeed, a Madrid-based artist came to present her single "Multiverse", a daring bet to offer her fans an innovative and unique experience, made possible thanks to the collaboration with Warner Music Spain.

Hotels and events seem to go hand in hand in the metaverse, as WanTing Group, one of China's largest entertainment companies, has announced plans to open its first property there. Located in Dubai's H Hotel, VISION promises a night-time experience that "blurs the boundaries of reality to pave the way for virtual hospitality".

Fans of deep-sea vacations are not left out with Celebrity Cruise, which is now offering tours of the brand's latest ship, Celebrity Beyond, in the metaverse. It is the first cruise line to jump into the fray and according to the group this offering is the start of a long journey of expanding operations into the metaverse. The primary target customers for this platform are those new to cruising or those who have never sailed with Celebrity, said Michael Scheiner, chief marketing officer for Celebrity Cruises.

The metaverse seems to have aroused the curiosity of the major hotel operators, but this is still only the time for experimentation and there are few concrete examples of this today. It must be said that all this has a cost. According to Rémy Bompar, Strategy & Operations Manager at Sandbox, it currently costs between 20 and 40,000 euros to purchase a "land" (a virtual plot of land) in The Sandbox.

Redefining the outlines of MICE with the metaverse

As more and more employees spend their days between the office, home, coffee shops and coworking spaces, companies are faced with a range of issues concerning collaboration, productivity, employee well-being and talent retention. The meta-verse is one potential solution that managers are considering to address these various challenges.

In addition, more than half of companies plan to introduce immersive technologies and virtual reality by 2025, according to a survey conducted by JLL. The introduction of the metaverse could therefore be the logical next step in this evolution. In addition, employees already expect that in the future 60% of meetings will combine virtual and physical elements. The way ahead seems clear for the metaverse.

Some large companies are already working in the metaverse. In 2021, Accenture purchased 60,000 virtual reality headsets for orientation and training of new employees. JPMorgan has created Onyx, a virtual lounge in Decentraland, while Deloitte's virtual campus in Virbela hosts both internal activities and international events.

Accor also sees the value of such technology for business travel and is experimenting with Meta's Workplace meta-version. Accor's Executive Committee met virtually in this way. As MICE is a key market for the group, it is exploring how meetings can evolve in this way. The group has also developed a new concept of hybrid meetings based on Microsoft Teams.

For companies looking to improve collaboration between teams while reducing environmental impact and travel costs, working in the metaverse could soon become commonplace.

One of the great benefits of the metaverse is greater connectivity in all directions. Work meetings via videoconferencing, for example, which are already fully integrated into our lives, "will soon be held with avatars and holograms intertwined", according to José Ramón Ubieto, a psychoanalyst and professor at the UOC's Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences.

While designers are excited by the seemingly limitless possibilities of the metaverse, a successful business meeting combining augmented, virtual and physical reality requires the right equipment.

This means investing in workplace video conferencing equipment, such as spatial audio and cameras capable of capturing activity in the room. This is a considerable cost that at the moment only large companies can afford, and it remains to be seen whether this will change as these new technologies become more widely available.

The technological revolution is not yet upon us

Many professionals are looking forward to the arrival of the metaverse, while others are dreading it. However, the most worried can be reassured because the metaverse is still far from being completed. While some components of this universe, such as augmented reality, virtual reality and the blockchain, already exist, everything else has yet to be built.

Meta, which is working and investing heavily in the creation of its own metaverse, concedes that while "virtual reality is already having a real impact, much of what we envision for the metaverse is still a decade away and requires collaboration across industries and with experts, academics, civil society, governments and regulators to get there." So there is still a long way to go before you can holiday in the metaverse.

Moreover, the digital divide, whether geographical, gendered or socio-economic, or the still unaffordable price of virtual reality headsets or goggles, seems to be delaying the arrival of this hybrid world and, above all, its widespread adoption. We will therefore have to be patient before the democratisation of the metaverse and the adoption of this new virtual world.

Meta has identified several elements necessary for its deployment, in agreement with Matthew Ball, technology expert and author of a book on the metaverse. The list of elements includes

  • The establishment of a concurrency infrastructure that will allow millions of users to be synchronously present in a shared experience
  • The creation of computer standards and protocols to actualise the level of interoperability envisaged for the metaverse
  • Mass adoption of metavers and virtual reality headsets
  • The creation of a legal framework in terms of privacy and digital security

It should be borne in mind that the creation of such a universe will inevitably involve the use of user data. This poses a legal and ethical problem that professionals will have to seriously consider. Furthermore, it must be taken into consideration that each country has its own regulations concerning the security of its citizens' virtual data, a real headache for the "architects" of the metaverse.

While the metaverse has many advantages, such as being able to promote sites that are not easily accessible or ignored by tourists, it also has its drawbacks. While some see the metaverse as a solution to avoid flying and move towards sustainable tourism, the digital pollution it will create could well run counter to this form of virtuous tourism.

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