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Tourism and metaverse: towards a generalization of virtual travel?

The metaverse occupies an increasingly important place in the media landscape. While some are positioning themselves in a cautious or refractory manner, others consider this technological development as an opportunity to develop new offers.

Tourism is a sector that evolves largely according to information and communication technologies, so it is quite relevant to question the way in which it could integrate this virtual universe. And it is since the announcement of the creation of the Meta group by Mark Zuckerberg that this term has spread massively in the world. The metaverse can be defined as a set of virtual spaces, persistent, shared, indexed in the real world and accessible via 3D interaction.

So how could the metaverse take over tourism, a practice that requires physical travel?

Do tourism and technology go hand in hand?

There is a clear correlation between the evolution of tourism and that of technologies, which always go hand in hand. Indeed, from computerized reservation centers in the 1970s to the domestication of the Internet towards the end of the 1990s, technology has always been inserted into tourism to bring out new practices.

The metaverse is part of this evolution of the Internet which uses increasingly immersive technologies to offer phygital experiences, that is to say where the boundaries between the real and the virtual are increasingly permeable.

Whether in museums, national parks or heritage sites, the health crisis has also enabled many players to increase and sustain the use of technological tools to offer virtual reality tours. The Fly Over Zone application, in addition to offering an exploration of cultural World Heritage sites, allows the digital restoration of damaged sites.

Web giant Amazon has launched “Amazon Explore” to literally “virtually travel around the world”. This commercial component is an interactive live streaming service, which they say allows you to discover new places from your computer. If this offer is still in its infancy, with a beta version, it’s a safe bet that this virtual tour service will evolve to offer even more immersive formats.

In terms of tourism, Asia is a pioneer with already very advanced proposals such as the “Seoul Metaverse” project, which aims to become the first major city in the world to enter the metaverse, with a tourist route that will reproduce the main sites of city tour.

MoyaLand, the first French virtual tourist universe

But it is in France, that we find one of the most successful projects with MoyaLand: a touristic virtual universe, built like a virtual and immersive artistic reproduction which has a tourist office, museums, an airport, a historic center where inhabitants and tourists can evolve virtually through their avatars.

Other tourism players could follow suit because according to the American company Gartner, in 2026, 25% of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse. So how will these people experience tourism in this virtual environment?

The metaverse to encourage travel

There are two main tendencies to define the tourist experience: the first relates to the order of the process with a transformation of the world into knowledge, the second relates to the moment lived with a central place given to hedonism and the feeling of success. If by definition, tourism requires physical travel, there is in fact a contradiction with the tourist experiences offered by the metaverse which can nevertheless replace it but above all arouse the desire to travel.

Remember that virtual reality is an immersive environment created using a technological device that provides the user with digitally created sensations such as sight, hearing, touch and even smell. To awaken their senses in the virtual tourist areas of the metaverse, users will therefore have to be equipped with visual, sound, haptic (of the sensory sensor type), tactile and olfactory devices. Apart from the cost of acquiring them, the use of these new devices calls into question the perception of the senses that man has with his environment.

By reproducing a tourist decor, the metaverse forms a whole between the device, the user who puts himself in the shoes of a tourist and the other spectators. Although the experience is virtual, the senses are put to good use by stimulating certain situations that are desired but not accessible at the time.

By allowing an immersive practice, the virtual reality headset or haptic sensors would make it possible to experience things hitherto intangible and to reconnect with sensoriality. Through his avatar, the user of the metaverse can embody a tourist by virtually constructing a tour route, interact with other avatars and therefore imagine what they feel, by stimulating what Giacomo Rizzolatti calls mirror neurons .

Societal and environmental constraints

Imitated, reproduced or simulated, all that remains is that travel and vacations represent tourist practices that represent a break from everyday life. These moments are also an opportunity for some to find their loved ones or to practice activities that are difficult to carry out in the usual course of life. Observing animals during a safari, discovering archaeological sites or practicing a foreign language are activities that produce unique bodily and spiritual sensations, essential and different from those produced virtually by the devices of the metaverse.

Moreover, the metaverse which is in itself a technological evolution of the Internet is not yet complete. It requires financial investment and the construction of a regulatory framework to regulate user behavior.

Still a long way to go

Because when Mark Zuckerberg wishes to create a virtual and alternative world in which users can also travel, we must not lose sight of the fact that it is also user data that will be put to use. And if some observe the metaverse as a solution to avoid flying and tend towards sustainable tourism, the digital pollution induced by it could well go in the opposite direction of virtuous tourism.

Even if tourism in the metaverse cannot replace a tourist experience lived away from home, certain tourism professionals could benefit from it in order to make known sites that are not easily accessible or ignored by tourists, who will discover them virtually.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Naïma Aïdi, doctoral student in information and communication sciences, attached to the Dicen-IdF laboratory. Tourism and Smart Tourism, Gustave Eiffel University

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