Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are proving to be disruptive in a number of different industries, and travel could be next. AR involves the projection of images or animations through goggles, glasses, or a device, into real space. It’s something many people are now at least casually familiar with, and it’s already beginning to have an impact on travel planning and the hotel business.
VR, however, involves a more complete digital rendering, and may have more potential to affect travel experiences. With virtual reality, one wears goggles or a headset in order to completely transform the field of vision, such that an entire new reality — or location — can be digitally experienced. The technology has been popular for a few years now, and already it is inspiring new ways of “touring” the world, or at least certain places in it.
For the most part, this is likely to remain a casual, recreational activity, or even an aspect of travel planning (allowing people to see or tour destinations before deciding to visit). However, there are some travel experiences one can imagine VR more or less replacing.
1. World Wonders
The Wonders of the World make for incredible tourist destinations, and many of them are on a lot of people’s bucket lists. Consider as just a few examples the Great Wall of China, the pyramids of Giza, and Machu Picchu. As alluring as these places are though, they can also be somewhat challenging to get to. And this can make it difficult for people to plan trips. Someone with an interest in Machu Picchu, for instance, might ultimately ask himself if it’s worth the effort to fly to Peru and hike to the ruins, or if a leisurely coastal getaway in Central or South America might make for a better vacation.
In most cases, people who make the effort will say that it was very much worth it! However, VR is likely to offer incredible, up-close virtual tours of world wonders that give people a third option. It won’t be a surprise if we see many travellers opting to skip world wonder vacations in favour of touring the sites virtually.
2. Casino Tourism
Casino tourism may never go away, so long as it’s tied to massive resorts with amenities and entertainment that go beyond gaming. However, casinos themselves may be replaced in large part by VR experiences.
Already, many have lost interest in brick-and-mortar casinos in favour of online gaming options. There are innumerable apps and sites that offer casual versions of slot machines, roulette, and blackjack, and even poker is more accessible than some thing. While there are high-profile online venues for competitive play, partypoker details that there are also sit-and-go tournaments that are “ideal for new players” (such as many would-be tourists who might simply want to try poker at a famous casino). These options already exist. But as online poker inevitably blends with VR, such that it can provide a sense of atmosphere in addition to the games, we may see fewer travellers with interest in famous casino destinations like Las Vegas, Macau, or Monte-Carlo.
3. Scuba Diving
Scuba diving can be thought of somewhat similarly to world wonders: It’s an alluring activity and a common draw for tourists, but it also requires a lot of effort! From the initial need to get certified to the hassles of booking a trip and handling equipment, scuba diving is a demanding travel hobby.
As with world wonders, VR has potential to offer a version of the reward of scuba travel without any of the hassle. There are already some VR experiences out there with underwater themes, and in the near future it’s likely that programs will allow people to virtually explore ocean regions of their choice, or get up close to certain famous wreck sites and reefs. Many will likely prefer the ease, variety, and safety of these options to the real thing.
Maybe more than any other type of travel attraction, museums have already embraced virtual reality. Travel & Leisure listed 12 museums that already offer virtual tours to people sitting at home. And while not all of these tours explicitly involve VR, it’s clear that the technology can be used to facilitate remote tours of galleries around the world.
It may not be particularly common these days for people to travel for the sole purpose of visiting a museum. However, given the option of a virtual tour, it’s conceivable that many travellers will prioritise other sights and activities while in foreign places. Museums may well see fewer tourists as a result.
Ultimately, none of these virtual options are quite like the real thing. Nothing will match the feeling a traveller gets standing beneath the great pyramids, playing poker at the Bellagio, or viewing the Mona Lisa in person. Nevertheless, VR options in these areas are bound to draw lots of attention, and may replace real travel in many cases.
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