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Travel industry not at risk from Virtual Reality, survey finds

81% don’t think virtual reality could ever take over from real-life travel; 90% say they would miss the full sensory experience of travelling, while 52% say travel agents could be replaced by artificial intelligence, but majority agree tour guides and hotel staff need personal touch.

Virtual reality is a hot topic at the moment, and particularly so within the travel industry. Virtual reality is already playing an increasingly popular part in the industry with virtual reality headsets allowing customers to experience 360° views of hotel rooms and holiday resorts.

As VR technology continues to develop and take on a bigger role, the question arises – could virtual reality ever replace real-life travel? If customers are able to don virtual headsets and step straight into a destination, would the inclination to hop on a plane, train or automobile be lost?

European tour specialists Italy4Real have conducted a survey to find out.

The global survey of over 1000 adults found that while 46% said they would invest in a virtual reality travel experience headset, a whopping 81% said they did not believe virtual reality could ever replace the desire for real-life travel.

92% also stated that visiting a destination via a virtual reality headset would not count as actually having been there.

Some of the main reasons that respondents felt virtual reality travel could not measure up to real-life travel included the absence of the smells, sounds and atmosphere of the destination; not being able to enjoy the local food and drink, and missing out on meeting new people and locals.

However, respondents did offer up some potential advantages of virtual reality travel, with 77% stating it would be a good option if you’re not physically capable of travelling. Other advantages of VR travel included being able to go ‘wherever you want, whenever you want’, and it being cheaper in the long-term than multiple trips.

The survey also looked to assess the role of artificial intelligence within the travel industry and gather opinion on whether jobs within the industry could be replaced by automation.

Just over half of respondents said they believed the role of travel agent could be replaced by artificial intelligence, as they already use a computer to book their holidays.

However, the roles of tour guide and hotel staff look set to remain safe.

A substantial 67% of respondents said they did not feel the role of tour guide could be replaced by AI, as a machine couldn’t include spontaneous facts and engage with the group.

67% also said the role of hotel staff could not be replaced by AI as it needs a personal touch. However, 41% said the hotel role which could most easily be replaced by artificial intelligence is that of receptionist.

Owner and Director of Italy4Real, Rem Malloy, said: “We were very interested to see the results of this survey. Virtual reality and artificial intelligence are growing aspects of the travel industry and discussion around the role they play is vital.

At Italy4Real authentic travel experiences are at the core of what we do and we don’t believe that virtual reality could ever replace the full sensory experience of travel. We are pleased to see that a large majority of respondents feel the same way.

Virtual reality can certainly help to enhance the travel experience at the pre-booking stage, however we don’t believe it could ever replace it entirely.

We were also interested to see that 67% of respondents feel the role of tour guide could not be replaced by artificial intelligence. At Italy4Real our expert local tour guides are a crucial part of our services, and we intend to keep that personal touch.”

The survey shows that while people express an interest in using virtual reality it is not something they believe can take over from real-life experiences, as nothing can truly compare to that authentic travel experience.