A global survey by Italy4Real has found that virtual reality won't replace real-life travel experiences. At least that's what travellers are saying today...
We like to keep one eye on future trends in travel. There's no doubt that one of the technologies with the most potential in the industry is Virtual Reality (VR). We've written previously on how it can be applied to help marketing efforts and improve conversions.
In that same article, we also suggested that once the technology is perfected, it could even represent a risk to the travel industry. Why the risk? Well the point is a simple one: If virtual experiences become convincing (and cheap) enough, perhaps they could replace travel altogether.
Sure, it's an 'out there' claim. But it's easy to imagine a VR system capable of matching the visuals of real life. The difficult things to replicate are the other senses that are stimulated by travel: smells, sounds and conditions, along with the intangibles of excitement and awe.
European tour specialists Italy4Real have conducted a global survey of 1,000 people to look into travellers' perceptions of VR technology. Could it replicate or even replace genuine travel experiences?
These were the main results:
The survey was conducted because VR technology is at an interesting stage in the travel industry at the moment. It's becoming an increasingly popular way for agencies selling tours and accommodation to offer potential customers a preview of a given destination. Simply put on a headset and be whisked away while experiencing 360° views of hotel rooms and resorts.
That's the idea, anyway. Inevitably the introduction of this technology to the interview has led to questions surrounding its use in the future. Will it become established as a method of enticing customers, or will it replace travel altogether?
The results of the survey will be of comfort to operators fearing the latter. Of 1,000 adults questioned, although 46% said they would invest in a virtual reality travel experience headset, a huge 81% said they did not believe virtual reality could ever replace the desire for real-life travel.
'Ever' is the word doing all the work here. The vast majority of people don't think that VR technology could ever be up to it. This says two things. First: There's something intangible given to us through travel that perhaps can never be accurately replicated. Second: these assumptions may be based on a false assumption of VR technology and its real potential.
To dismiss VR as a technology that will never quite make it is a dangerous game. After all - and not to get too philosophical at this point - how are we to know that the lives we are currently living aren't some kind of virtual reality experience?
The main point is more simple. No matter whether VR tech is convincing enough, travellers will always want the real thing. Nobody wants to feel like they've cheated or, worse, like they've somehow missed out. This is perhaps why physical trips to Machu Picchu will never be adequately replaced by VR.
It also explains why 92% of survey respondents stated that visiting a destination via a virtual reality headset would not count as actually having been there.
The reasons why are down to the feeling that VR travel can't measure up to real-life travel, with 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.
Another important factor is the things that VR would take away from the experience, like local food and drink or the opportunity to meet new people; two things that are an important part of any travel experience.
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."
Let's assume that VR technology is decades away from convincingly imitating the real world. And that in terms of travel, it will always be second best to reality. There are still, as we've spoken about before, potential applications to excite travel industry professionals.
These include providing interactive guided tours of accommodation and resorts and generally showing off a destination's best visuals.
One final point: Sure, VR travel might never reach the stage where it's an adequate replacement for the real thing. But it could make a name for itself as a backup option. Perhaps it will soon be offering the ill, the incapacitated and the elderly a way to visit sights and experience places that otherwise would be beyond their reach.
Survey respondents hinted at this. 77% said VR would be a good option if you're not physically capable of travelling. Other benefits suggested were that people could effectively via VR go 'wherever you want, whenever you want'. Another plus is price: VR would be significantly cheaper than genuine travelling in the long-term.
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