Last week I enjoyed attending the 30th edition of the Arabian Travel Market at the World Trade Center. The event saw a record-breaking number of visitors with more than 40,000 people attending, demonstrating that the region's travel sector is booming. Despite this, the country has a very ambitious growth target as part of the UAE Tourism Strategy 2031, with one element of this being tourism growth within the Metaverse.
The vision is for Dubai to become a global metaverse hub, with people experiencing the city in the virtual reality world and contributing to the tourism revenue growth target. I was therefore very interested in visiting the ATM Travel Tech Stage to listen to a panel discussing "The Future of Travel and Tourism in the Metaverse”, a session among many that explored how innovations such as Web3 are unlocking the next level of tourism.
The panel discussed various ways that brands could leverage virtual reality to improve experiences, complement real-world trips, and overcome barriers.
Breaking the routine
For example, for many, traveling can be a source of stress as it involves breaking out of routine, giving up much of our control over our everyday lives, and entering the unfamiliar. Brands have a job to do to reassure audiences that they will fulfill their ideals of comfort, something that is especially true in the luxury sector.
Luxury travelers have different definitions and expectations of luxury and need reassurance from brands regarding their choices. Using immersive VR, luxury hotels can provide people with pre-sale demos of their destinations, so customers feel safe in the knowledge that they know exactly what they are getting before they commit.
Enhanced interactions are also possible in the metaverse and open up new possibilities for great service and personalization. Avatar-based travel agents and concierges will be able to meet customers and provide tailor-made recommendations and itineraries for their trips that would previously have been limited to phone calls or emails.
For hotels selling event spaces, the logistics and timelines for closing a sale will be shorter with decision-makers being able to visit virtually rather than in person. Similarly, weddings, concerts, and summits could also be hosted on the metaverse and hotels like the Atlantis are working with metaverse content creators to make this vision a reality.
Many airlines are starting to invest in metaverse experiences, with Emirates and Qatar Airways both launching experiences that allow customers to trial their first-class suites to entice them to book in the real world. They are offering loyalty points to those who visit their digital spaces, which can be redeemed by customers for benefits in the real world.
Emirates also announced their plans to hire 4,000 cabin crew and train them solely in the metaverse to increase both time and cost efficiencies, while Qatar Airways is planning to launch a meta cabin crew member who will guide customers through departures at the airport. These initiatives make for more fun experiences and particularly appeal to the next generation of Gen-Z customers who are most familiar with the virtual world.
In Saudi Arabia, the UNESCO World Heritage Site created an immersive VR experience to give tourists the ability to visit the Al Ula desert and see the landscape from different perspectives, including flying over it in a hot air balloon. The experience was launched during the Al Ula Balloon Festival.
What's next in the Metaverse
While the metaverse is still very much in its infancy, the possibilities for the future of travel in this space are endless. We can expect to see many creative experiences being developed. I don’t believe that virtual trips will ever replace the enrichment that real-world travel can bring, however, it's a further acceleration of the seamless blur between our digital and real-world lives.
It's clear though that it’s vital for brands to join the metaverse to create something authentic and in line with their brand values and DNA and not just to jump on a trend with no real strategy behind it.