Megatrends & Tourism Series #Week 8: Virtual Reality

Monitoring Trends to achieve High Performance

My mission is to help tourism professionals achieve high performance so they can build businesses and destinations that last. To build lasting success and achieve high performance, it’s essential to have a look at what’s happening around you right now and what might be coming down the line in the future. In this regard, Megatrend Analysis is something that’s getting a lot of attention. A megatrend is defined as a long-term shift in behaviour or attitude with global impact across multiple industries. This article takes a look at the Virtual Reality megatrend.

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality (VR) is an artificial, computer-generated simulation or recreation of a real life environment or situation. The user is immersed into that situation or environment mainly by stimulating their vision and hearing so that they feel like they are having a real-life experience. Some commentators believe it’s the hottest trend of 2019 while others believe it’s time has already passed and it’s time to move on to the next thing! Here are a few things we know for sure:

- The VR industry has doubled each year for the last few years, and was worth over $14bn dollars in 2017. Goldman Sachs has estimated that VR and its cousin AR (Augmented RealitY) will grow to a market worth $95 bn by 2025.

- VR creates jobs, an estimated 220 million to date. That said, it has also replace about 180 million traditional jobs.

- VR headsets are one of the most sought after gifts this Christmas with relatively new gadget names entering the gift vernacular e.g. Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

VR has brought significant benefits to a number of industries e.g. medicine, psychology, education and training. So what about tourism?

VR & Tourism

Suzanne Cavanagh, the Australian tourism strategist and futurist, recently wrote that tourism is “one of the most seductive sectors for technological transformation”. It’s an interesting way to think about it. Here are just some of the reasons that VR is attractive in tourism terms:

- VR enables prospective travellers to take virtual tours of hotels, experiences and destinations. It’s the ultimate try-before-you-buy.

- It allows easier navigation within destination thanks to some innovative new wayfinder applications.

- It’s the definition of frictionless travel as it has the capacity to replace actual travel. Without leaving your own home, you can experience multiple parts of the world without packing, queuing, security checks or crowds.

- It offers universal access – whatever your ability or budget, you can experience the world with VR. It’s highly democratic.

- No-go areas and conflict zones can be experienced and understood.

- Seasonality becomes a thing of the past – customize your holiday to your needs no matter the time of year.

- There is far less impact on the environment.

There is undoubtedly a strong demand amongst travellers for authenticity and ‘getting-under-the-skin’ of a place. Is VR in conflict with that? Perhaps. It’s another example of how values of today and tomorrow may in fact conflict with each other and yet also happily co-exist.

So what does it mean for tourism operators?

Right now, VR represents an economic opportunity. It can be considered as part of your visual content strategy. Virtual reality is changing the way that audiences engage with brands. If you are creating content with an eye on the future, then getting familiar with the world of VR is pretty much essential. Here are a few suggestions and observations:

1.Try it out. Get to know it and understand it. Google Cardboard is a highly affordable entry point for anyone who’s new to VR and it works with your smartphone.

2. Start with a 360 degree video. The next new essential for social media experience and live streaming. But beware! This is not conventional video. It requires VR-specific expertise – think VR, shoot VR and design VR. A 360 degree camera might be your next accessory, one that captures every direction at the same time. This will become essential for content-rich social media sharing.

3. Wait for the App! It’s a little tongue in cheek but if previous developments are anything to go by, we can expect an app at no-cost or low-cost that will help the average person with VR content creation. There must be an Uber-type app for VR. VR is expensive relative to other content creation strategies – one needs to think about briefing, content, developer time, adaptability to multiple platforms and distribution

Parting thought – Who’s reality is it anyway?

Suzanne Cavanagh has just published a great article (Reimagining Trust and Tourism in an Online World) around the questions of technology, ethics and trust. She says our jobs as strategies are to optimize the economic opportunities of these technologies but within a context that enriches our lives. We need to balance economic benefits with social benefits and protections. It’s wonderful that somebody is posing these questions and asking us to stop and think.

It seems that the same 4-5 mega companies are behind all of these technological advances that are transforming our lives – the big 3 being Amazon, Google and Facebook. The ethical questions are not being addressed thoroughly enough.

At the end of the day, virtual reality is not actual reality. Tourism and travel have always valued difference and distance, both physical and psychological. The prospect of experience without distance, without movement, without actual contact seems a little hollow. On the question of benefitting and protecting society as well as achieving economic benefit, there’s a danger of an even greater concentration of the benefits of tourism into a very small number of hands. You may be virtually visiting but the local community may not be actually benefitting. The goldfish in a bowl metaphor comes to mind. It’s hard to know if the visitor is availing of VR or whether the visitor, provider and destination are just actors in the movies being directed by the Big Tech Monopolies. The lines are already very blurred.