Over the past couple of decades, technology has permeated and disrupted all facets of our life. The travel experience has been completely changed because of technology just the same. From the ability to navigate oneself using GPS, pre-booking flights, and hotels using the internet and sharing one’s travel experience in real-time with friends and family using social media. All of these have been made possible because of the advancement of technology. One of these latest advancements that aim to replace or at least complement the travel experience is Virtual Travel.
In layman terms, virtual travel is a digital simulation of an attraction or a destination through immersive high definition photos and videos. One of the most popular methods of experiencing Virtual Travel is through the use of VR headsets and 360° Video.
With about 90% of the global economy on lockdown, virtual travel-based experiences are in a unique position to help satisfy the wanderlust of travelers around the world. Providers of these experiences have experienced a significant surge in users ever since the lockdown went into effect. The entire virtual travel market is estimated to be worth around $6.1 billion in 2020. Travelers have flocked to this technology to experience exotic locations like Machu-Pichu and museums like the Smithsonian alike.
Advantages of Virtual Travel:-
Accessibility:- All you need to be able to experience the wonders of the Taj Mahal and immerse yourself in the beauty of Mona Lisa virtually is a phone that doubles as a VR headset and the will to see the wonders of the world. This technology has very rapidly made these experiences widely available to everybody regardless of their financial status or their physical capabilities.
Try it before you buy it:- Virtual Travel experiences created by tour providers allow travelers to immerse themselves in the beauty and culture of a destination unparalleled to what photos and videos can offer. It allows travelers to make more informed decisions before paying to visit a destination in person.
Better for the Environment:- If the experience is immersive enough to satisfy the wanderlust of casual travelers, virtual travel can provide the unique advantage of being able to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the tourism industry and solve the problem of over-tourism.
Independent of Space and Time:- Virtual Travel can be used to create experiences that would simply be impossible to replicate in real life. This technology can be used to create experiences that would allow us to experience a culture in a completely different light. Eg. A virtual experience in Paris in the late 1800s as the Eiffel tower is being built or an experience or an experience based in ancient Rome where you experience gladiators fight along with 50,000 other spectators cheering.
Following are some of the best-rated Virtual Experiences:-
Known as one of the most iconic museums on the planet the Louvre offers a variety of tours of its exhibits ranging from Egyptian artifacts to paintings from the renaissance period, all from the comfort of your couch.
Located in the heart of Washington D.C, The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has the world’s largest natural history collection in the world. Its expansive collection of artifacts makes it an attraction that attracts tourists and locals alike. The virtual experience offered by the museum is one of the most highly rated due to its high fidelity and easy to navigate interface.
One of the 7 wonders of the world, The Taj Mahal built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his wife, is by far the most famous tourist attraction in the country.
Various virtual experiences offered to tourists allow them to explore 22 different sites on the premises through 360° video and narrated mini-movies.
The fort located in the pink city Jaipur is famous for its cobbled pathways and magnificent gateways. The Hindu-Muslim influences are apparent from the design of the fort and the serene views Maota Lake make it a must-visit for anybody looking to explore the culture and heritage of Rajasthan. In order to revive interest in the tourist attraction present all over Rajasthan, the government has launched a variety of virtual tours that allow you to experience these attractions from your laptop browser.
Lack of Immersion:- There is a stark difference between using virtual travel as a means to narrow down your travel and the virtual experience being all there is to it. The virtual experiences are limited by technology and are not as immersive as required and are fairly limited. Hence, do not satisfy the need to explore a space that a tourist usually has.
Uncomfortable:- The experiences are based on the virtual reality technology which itself is in its nascent stages and still has its own sets of bugs and kinks. The VR headset used for these experiences is often bulky and uncomfortable. Therefore hinders the experience of the traveler. Due to the clunky nature of video presentations if even leads to nausea if worn for a longer duration.
Lack of Social Interaction:- As described by travelers over the years “ Travel is inherently a social experience”. Whether it’s getting to know the history of a city through the personal anecdotes of a native or our parents enjoying the vacation significantly more by seeing their kids discover the wonders of the world, social interactions form an irreplaceable part of Travel.
In conclusion, I’d just like to say that virtual travel and VR as a technology, both show tremendous potential and one day might even be immersive enough to serve as a replacement for traveling in the real world but for now, its role is limited to being an effective placeholder.