Real travel in a virtual world

Written on 05/29/2022
Editor BizNews

*This content is brought to you by Shyft, the global money app, powered by Standard Bank

How metaverse technology is taking the travel industry to places it’s never been before.

Right now, art lovers can kinda-sorta travel the world, exploring major galleries like New York’s MoMA, Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, the fabled Uffizi in Florence, and dozens more. They can do it without leaving their desks, using Google Arts & Culture’s virtual tools to click from one high-res scanned masterpiece to another. It’s nothing like being there. In some ways, it’s better.

No crowds. No queues. And in our travel-restricted pandemic reality, it’s a breath of fresh air not to have to jostle through the tour groups and selfie sticks to get a quick glimpse of The Starry Night.

Now take that and extrapolate it across every destination you’ve ever wanted to visit. The Grand Canyon? Table Mountain? A swish hotel in Dubai? The metaverse is transforming travel by making virtual visits not only possible, but attractive. 

The meta-what?

The metaverse is a computer-simulated space that integrates interactive features – think virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), social media and cryptocurrencies – in an immersive 3D experience. It’s attracting huge investment and development interest from tech giants like Google, Microsoft and Facebook (which, as if to underline the point, renamed itself Meta in 2021).

In that context, it’s easy to imagine travelling (virtually) to that Dubai hotel room, checking in as a virtual avatar, interacting with other avatars and taking a virtual walk through the city. No passports, no pre-trip PCR tests, no last-minute lockdown restrictions, no cramped economy-class seats. Bliss.

Adding to the travel ecosystem

A recent global survey by Accenture found that 64% of surveyed consumers had already purchased a virtual product or enjoyed a virtual experience in the past year, with 83% saying they’re interested in making purchases via the metaverse. When it comes to travel, 50% of respondents said they are already buying, or are interested in buying, a metaverse travel experience like a hotel stay or activity. (For millennials, the figure rises to 55%; for boomers, it’s 29%.)

“It’s important to recognise that the metaverse is not intended to replace physical travel, but rather provide a complementary enhancement to an overarching experience that, over time, may become an essential part of the travel ecosystem,” said Emily Weiss, global head of Accenture’s travel industry group. “Giving the option to sit in a virtual first-class seat, experience the lounge or walk around a hotel resort or room, opens up opportunities to truly engage and inspire people before they travel.”

A whole new world

Because it’s all virtual, the metaverse can add layers of depth and meaning to the travel experience. As Weiss pointed out, “Through ‘trying-before-you-travel’, recreating landmarks in all their past glory or allowing travellers to investigate parts of nature, which they cannot explore within real-life interaction, the metaverse can also help create a more meaningful travel experience that delivers on or even exceeds customer expectations.”

Want to watch the Eiffel Tower being built before your eyes? Want to see Rome as it was 2 000 years ago; or experience Johannesburg during the Gold Rush? Just pop on your VR headset and tap a button on the virtual screen. It may even be better than the real thing.

But what does this mean for the average traveller?

The metaverse offers practical advantages over and above the enhanced destination experience. For example, airlines or hotels could offer customers the option to sample their seats or rooms within the metaverse, before they spend real money or real time on a real trip.

Already, the lines between real-world travel and virtual travel are being blurred. In May, low-cost European airline Vueling announced that it would start selling flights in the metaverse, with all virtual ticket purchases also usable in the real world. To achieve this, they partnered with metaverse platform Next Earth, which customers can use to visualise their real-world journeys, track their carbon footprint, and book the best modes of transport for each leg of their real-world journey.

When they arrive at their real-world destination, those customers could spend time taking in their surroundings, engaging with the locals and immersing themselves in the unique smells and sounds of the environment. But there’s also every chance they’ll simply push through the crowds, take a quick selfie and move onto the next thing. Which – let’s face it – they could have done from their desk.

Whether you’re a traveller or a tourist (and yes, there is a difference), you’ll need to pay your way as you go, be it for flights, accommodation, shopping or anything in between. With Shyft, you can create a virtual card for each of the currencies available on the app (currently ZAR, USD, GBP, EUR and AUD) – since you can’t exactly carry cash around in the metaverse. If IRL is more your scene, there are still ways to make travel more convenient and less expensive with Shyft. Order a multicurrency Shyft physical card on the app to shop, swipe and save (by cutting the conversion fees associated with other traditional payment methods) when you arrive at your real-world destination of choice. Visit getshyft.co.za to download it and try it for yourself.

This post was sponsored by Shyft, the global money app, powered by Standard Bank. With Shyft you can buy forex instantly anytime, anywhere, and at the best rates, and invest in top US stocks and ETFs. Shyft was named Best Financial Solution at the 2021 MTN Business App of the Year Awards. Visit Shyft to download it now, no matter where you bank. Shyft operates under the license of The Standard Bank of South Africa Limited, an authorised Financial Services Provider (FSP number 11287).

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