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Virtual travel could open new horizons for industry players

Gaëlle Desportes

Regional Marketing Manager Western Europe, Middle East and Africa, Amadeus IT Group

More and more travel booking and buying takes place in the digital space – could travel itself now go virtual, and what does that mean for travel sellers? Today’s demanding consumers have high expectations and, as technology streamlines processes and makes more things possible, these expectations rise higher. Online travel shopping is a case in point; travel seller websites are becoming more sophisticated all the time as they compete to attract customers.

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A few static photographs was once enough to catch a customer’s eye, but today’s travel shopper is looking for something much richer and more engaging – and virtual travel could help travel sellers deliver it. Virtual travel is a ‘sensory experience’ that uses technology to transport someone to a destination without actually going there.

Virtual Travel

Virtual travel offers the sights, sounds and even smells of a destination. For some leisure travel shoppers virtual shopping can be a way to ‘test drive’ a destination: a form of ‘try before you buy’. For others, virtual travel can offer a taste of destinations they may never get to visit because they are too expensive or too fragile for mass tourism. Only a handful of people can actually visit and view the Palaeolithic paintings in France’s Lescaux Caves – but millions could experience the sights and ambience via virtual tourism.

The technology to bring virtual travel to life already exists. Google Business View gives any business a way to present an interactive 360-degree tour experience which visitors can explore online. Looking a little further ahead, virtual travel booths equipped with all the necessary audio-visual (and smell and touch) technology will give travel shoppers the rich all-senses virtual experience. Consider a travel agency shop with a virtual travel booth installed:  it’s a great way to get prospective travel buyers into the shop (and coming back for return visits) as it would be the only place they find that rich virtual experience.

Enticing More Visitors

Tour operators are exploring ways of offering virtual travel experiences and state tourism boards are also looking into virtual travel as a means of enticing more visitors. Besides the cost of fitting out virtual booths, a travel seller would face the cost of sourcing suitable virtual content, and this would likely hamper adoption or restrict it to larger travel groups with deep enough pockets. Longer term, as virtual reality technology becomes mainstream, consumers will own more of the necessary equipment. They’ll be able to get a complete 360-degree travel experience that stimulates all five senses in their own home.

Virtual travel will offer travel sellers exciting ways to showroom their product – whether in virtual booths in their shop sites or one day in the consumer’s home. Interactive applications like Google Business View give a taste of what this future will look like – and it makes sense for travel sellers to explore these options today. But will virtual travel do away with the demand for physical travel? If anything, the opposite is true. Virtual travel will be a catalyst for travel, opening new horizons for the leisure traveller.