Travel is all about the experience. The sights, smells and sounds of a new place can immediately intoxicate our senses and create memories that last a lifetime. This “real” experience has been central to travel for as long as humans have been on the earth. But things are beginning to change. What if we could recreate this experience in a virtual world? Or improve the real-life experience with augmented reality? And can we create completely new places to travel to?

It's not simply a question of “what if” anymore, it’s now becoming a reality. And with Covid-19 curtailing our ability to travel and consumers becoming more conscious of their carbon footprints, could it be the future of travel?

Travel in the age of Synthetic Society

In our Travel DNA report, we explore the macro trend of Travel in the age of Synthetic Society looking specifically at how both virtual and augmented reality will have a significant impact on how people research, buy and experience transport and travel. And also the development of synthetic real-world environments – entirely new locations and habitats that are specifically designed to overcome many of the challenges facing the future travel sector.

Here we’ll look in more detail about what this means for the future of the industry.

Exploring at home with virtual travel

In the 2020s, advances in virtual technology, combined with the growing availability and sophistication of haptic and co-presence virtual experiences, will enable consumers to explore, test and visit travel locations across all corners of the world.

So will consumers choose virtual travel over the real thing? It may never completely replace it, but it will influence decision making. Specifically:

  • Consumers are weary of over-crowding at the most popular travel hotspots.
  • More and more consumers are looking at innovative ways to limit their carbon footprint.
  • Time and financial cost will also be contributory factors.

Not just that, virtual experiences can offer consumers more. Visiting these destinations in the virtual world could even be better than the real thing:

  • Virtual experiences will be able to transport users to the ‘when’, as well as the ‘where’, meeting the growing interest in historical travel experiences.
  • Virtual travel experiences can also enable access to world-renowned experts and/or local experts on specific locations and cultures.

And it offers new opportunities that might not have been present before:

  • Virtual technology can democratise and diversify access to travel – enabling consumers with lower disposable income or disabilities to visit places they’re unable to in real life.
  • Virtual travel will enable consumers to visit locations that are hard to reach in the real-world.

The brands that win in the next two to five years are those that can integrate virtual reality into their current offerings – whether to showcase potential destinations to consumers or to compete with real-world experiences. The question of the metaverse also looms large.

Enhancing the experience on the go with augmented reality

But what about when people are on the move and are travelling? Can technology now enhance the experience?

While virtual reality creates fully virtual worlds and experiences, augmented reality provides content and visualisations that are overlaid onto the real-world via a consumer’s phone, headset or glasses. This technology will be able to enhance consumer perception and interaction with the real-word, with significant implications for mobility and travel services.

So, is it something we’re already seen being used?

In the here and now brands have an opportunity to embed augmented technology within mobility services to provide unique and enhanced forms of entertainment and personalised customer services within the constraints of a limited physical space, whether on a flight or in a car. And further down the line, there is an opportunity to develop augmented services that can provide functional support for transport and travel – offering real-time navigation and local information for example.

In the future, these are also key questions to answer about how this technology can be integrated into smart cities.

Experiencing something completely new with synthetic physical spaces

Virtual reality means we can travel from home while augmented reality offers the opportunity to enhance our experiences on the move. But what about the places themselves? Can we change these too?

The answer to that question is an emphatic yes.

Artificial environments that can compete with IRL locations will enable tourists to visit unique locations without adding strain to over-visited hotspots. And when we talk about artificial environments, we mean physical environments that have been artificially constructed to offer a unique travel experience.

This will allow governments and brands to construct artificial destinations that can divert tourism away from over-crowded areas and to optimise land use. And as climate change makes many places of the world less hospitable, artificial environments will provide alternatives to consumers seeking to visit locations affected by rising temperatures.

The most well-known example of an artificial environment is Dubai’s Palm Springs, but we’re already seeing this start to happen with greener initiatives. Take for example, the redevelopment projects around the riverbanks in Rotterdam.

Artificial environments are seen as a viable next step for luxury travel where entirely new environments are created to offer a unique and one-of-a-kind experience. For this to work, it’s key to learn lessons from Dubai, however and to ensure any development can mitigate the environmental impact caused and not damage the proposition of such destinations for eco-conscious consumers.

The brands and governments that get it right may revolutionise luxury travel.    

So how can brands keep up with the pace of change?

In our Travel DNA report, we dive further into the changing consumer demand around travel in the age of synthetic society. We also highlight the key changes brands need to make now and in the next two to five years to keep up with the pace of change. Download the Travel DNA Report now.

And in our latest webinar, we looked in detail at the opportunities for brands when it comes to tackling these changing consumer travel choices. Watch the webinar now.