By Dr Suthikorn Kingkaew | 19 January 2022, 12.00pm SGT
Metaverse, a digital reality that enhances users’ experiences by immersing them in a space where the physical and virtual worlds combine,is known as a new disruption. With the Covid-19 pandemic as a catalyst, Metaverse comes even faster and is more conspicuous for every industry worldwide, and of course, the travel industry is no exception. Until now, it is still not certain to what extent this disruption will benefit or backfire the sector. But there are two sure things, it will come, and many industry players are trying to leverage this trend.
Imagine you are a traveler from New York and want to book a hotel reservation in Bangkok. Currently, you can access a booking website or the hotels’ website to obtain information such as prices, rates, features, and room availability. With Metaverse, you can go beyond this step and have more confidence prior to your booking; that is, you can experience the ambiance of this hotel by using just a smartphone or your devices. More specifically, you can turn yourself into a digital avatar and see the hotel’s world-class amenities and an attractive location virtually. This virtual tour enables you to make up your mind more easily, increasing bookings and reducing the chance of negative disconfirmation. When staying in this hotel, you can also be provided with an interactive hotel room experience or local virtual experience that can improve your satisfaction. Therefore, this hotel can be advantageous vis-à-vis its competitor if it can utilize this tool properly. Not only hotels, but some airlines have also already embraced this technology in their pre-booking process. Those negatively affected may be tourism agents since travelers can experience the hotels virtually without guidance.
Besides hotel services, some tourism destinations can also take advantage of this trend as Metaverse can provide virtual experiences to prospective travelers who hesitate to make a visit or have a limited budget to travel. Furthermore, this technology can also help visitors reach remote destinations or even assist disabled travelers to visit their dream destinations. However, virtual traveling is not likely to completely replace the conventional tourism experience yet, as they still lack sensations and some feelings that only physical traveling can provide. But who knows? When required technologies become available, it may be replaceable just like online shopping that can somehow substitute physical retail experience.
Even though virtual travelling cannot fully replace conventional travelling yet, some destinations prepare for this change actively. One of the most outstanding examples is the Seoul local government, which gets ready by initiating ‘Metaverse Seoul,’ a part of Seoul Vision 2030. The project will create an ecosystem for all areas of its municipal administration, including tourism. This will enable its residents and tourists to visit venues like Deoksugung Palace or Namdaemun Market, and attend events without being physically at those destinations.  This will reinforce Seoul as a popular tourism destination and strengthen its soft power on the global stage.
To summarize, if the players in the tourism industry can leverage this trend and make full use of it, then, they can upgrade their offers to the next level, including the physical and digital world. At a national level, stakeholders may need to brainstorm about how to respond to this trend, especially countries that rely heavily on tourism income where tourism industries can turn upside down if travelers’ behavior change in an unexpected way.
So now, the question is not whether to adopt this trend, but how to embrace it successfully.