In the last year, “metaverse” has become one of the buzziest words – driven in large part by Facebook’s rebranding its parent company with the name Meta in October 2021.
But Facebook is just one of the many major companies keenly interested in the metaverse. McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Gucci are some of the other mainstream brands working to stake a claim in this three-dimensional, virtual space.
What is the metaverse?
The metaverse combines multiple elements of technology using virtual reality, augmented reality and video where users can interact and experience things as they would in the real world.
It holds the potential for users to work, play and connect with friends or even strangers in any setting from virtual trips around the world to conferences.
Think modern video games that evoke a literal virtual realm where players can interact with each other in real-time as they navigate around the digital world, e.g. Minecraft, Fortnite or World of Warcraft.
And metaverse and Web3 consultant Steve Bambury says now is the time for travel brands to make moves toward creating a presence in the metaverse – or risk getting left behind.
“This is not a bubble – this is the evolution of computing. Our real world is 3D so it makes sense to engage with stuff in 3D,” Bambury says in a presentation during Travelport’s “Future of Retail” customer event in Dubai.
Speaking to the audience of travel suppliers, resellers and technology providers, Bambury describes the metaverse as the convergence of virtual reality (VR), extended reality (XR), spatial computing and immersive technology with blockchain, NFTs and Web3.
Beyond just looking like a futuristic, uber-cool way to interact, Bambury says consumers are more focused on content inside VR than they are when content is presented through traditional channels.
“There is no medium that has come before that has the emotive power of VR,” he says. And that is good news for companies in travel, where inspiration can create desire and, ultimately, a booking.
Three applications in travel
Bambury outlines three ways the travel and tourism industry can use virtual reality and the metaverse.
The easiest application – one that has existed for several years – is using VR to showcase a destination or travel experience. Bambury cites apps such as Wander, Brink Traveler, National Geographic Explore, Sygic Travel and Travel World VR as examples of how virtual reality can help travelers virtually “see” a place, which can “create the emotive drive to see it for real.”
More complex applications go beyond VR and into a more interactive engagement with consumers in the metaverse.
“Everyone is eventually going to have land and shops and a place to reach customers in the metaverse,” Bambury says.
For a travel supplier, this may take the form of a virtual store in the metaverse where consumers can have virtual “face-to-face” conversations with travel sellers. Using the capabilities of the technology, for example, a visitor could ask about a specific destination and the virtual walls of the shop could disappear to place them in that location as they hear about a specific hotel or tour.
And while the storefront is virtual, Bambury says the need for brand to stake a claim to a specific location in the metaverse is very real.
“Location, location, location,” he says.
“The land next to Nike or Snoop Dogg... costs more. So getting in now can be very beneficial. The earlier you get in, the more choice you are going to have.”
A third – and longer term – application for travel will be the creation of immersive, complex experiences within the metaverse.
Bambury says in the next five to 15 years, consumers may be choosing whether to virtually travel to “destinations” such as ancient Rome or the fictional island of Atlantis.
“As ridiculous as this might sound it is a distinct possibility – the idea of virtual trips to impossible places, to the past, to the future,” he says.
“People aren’t going to stop taking real trips, but they will start to supplement their in-real-life travel with crazy stuff like this.”
And while it may be years before the metaverse goes from buzzword to a bona fide tool for travel marketing and selling, Bambury says brands would be wise to start exploring it soon because it will take “a lot of people and a lot of time” to build their worlds in the metaverse.
“There’s a huge misconception that this is quick and easy to build. This is more akin to building a video game or a movie than to creating a Tweet or Instagram post,” he says.
“We are talking about technology that is at a nascent state and has a long way to go, but it is about future-proofing your companies, future-proofing your industry.”