Virtual reality is the most innovative way to find inspiration for your next trip, decide how to plan it, travel from home and even take imaginary trips.
While virtual reality has been around for quite a long time, in recent years it’s being used in the travel and tourism industry more than ever.
You’ll see some tourism boards use VR glasses at tourism conferences, you’ll find VR experiences at museums and galleries, and you can stay at home and travel virtually with your VR headset to places you may never visit in real life.
At the moment VR is not quite as widespread as one might expect given its potential, but it is definitely growing. A recent report by TrendWatching mentions the “virtual experience economy” as a hot future trend.
I’ve been fascinated by VR for a long time and frankly, can’t wait for it to become more mainstream.
How the Travel World is Using Virtual Reality
There are a few different ways to use VR in the world of travel.
Planning Your Trip with VR
The most obvious way to use VR would be to simulate tourist experiences, so you can get a taste of potential destinations and pick the ones you want to go to in real life.
It’s probably the most advanced marketing tool any tourism company or tourist board can use today, and certainly the coolest!
Put on your VR glasses and see what it’s like to sail on a yacht in the French Riviera or cycle through a forest in Germany….
It is very different to seeing pictures of famous landmarks on Instagram or even to walking around a city with your favourite travel vlogger.
VR is an immersive experience and is much more exciting, powerful and creative.
Here are some examples of how VR is being used already:
Sweden’s tourism board lets you see Sweden’s nature with a VR experience available online.
The Non-museum in Vilnius lets you travel all across Lithuania with VR glasses and enjoy its lovely landscapes with carefully curated themes.
Australian airline Qantas lets you “see the best of Australia” before you fly.
Travel World VR is a free virtual reality and augmented reality app for Android and Iphone that lets you see places on your phone before you book your holiday.
These are all carefully designed, simulated tourist experiences that can help you plan your trip and give you ideas for new destinations.
Imaginary VR Experiences at Tourist Attractions
VR can also be used in a completely different way, to simulate imaginary experiences, or things you’re not likely to ever do in real life.
This is where it becomes even more interesting.
Tourist attractions, like museums, can add something extra to what they would normally offer, by being creative with new VR experiences.
Here are some cool examples of virtual reality experiences:
Vienna’s Museum of Applied Arts lets you stroll inside a painting! Klimt’s Magic Garden is one of the best VR experiences I’ve had on any of my trips. You might have to queue for it, but it is well worth it.
The Science Museum in London can turn you into an astronaut with its space descent VR experience that simulates the landing of a spaceship. I tried it last summer and it was good fun!
You can fly from Tokyo to Paris in two hours… Japanese virtual travel company First Airlines recreates the entire experience of international travel, including a mock airport, an “in-flight” meal and VR sightseeing at your destination.
If you’re actually in Paris, you can fly over the city with a jetpack, thanks to FlyView.
When you stay at the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina, treat yourself to “the world’s first virtual reality wellness experience”. It is designed to help you relax with sounds, smells and sensations from nature.
The potential for these imaginary or out-of- reach experiences is endless.
Virtual Reality Travel When You Can’t Travel in Real Life
Say you suffer from a fear of flying, or you’re old and frail and can’t travel anymore, or you’re stuck at home due to a global pandemic… Is virtual travel your solution?
Here are some of VR experiences you can enjoy at home:
Experience Google Earth in virtual reality to go anywhere you like with your VR headset. It lets you fly over mountains or over your favourite city.
Everest VR simulates climbing Mount Everest, with gorgeous views and quite a bit of the excitement you might feel if you were to do it in real life.
Never been to the Grand Canyon? You can explore it from home with the immersive and super detailed Grand Canyon VR Experience.
Visit the Amazon rainforest with an educational virtual reality journey “Under the Canopy” to learn about the environmental threats to the region.
The Holy City 360 lets you travel through Jerusalem’s famous holy sites with a stereo 360 VR film that will make you feel as if you’re actually there.
theBlu is a popular VR game series that lets you dive into the ocean.
What Gear Do You Need to Enjoy VR Experiences from Home?
To make the most out of the proliferation in VR experiences that you can enjoy from anywhere, you’ll need a virtual reality headset.
There’s a variety to choose from, from simple VR glasses for your phone to high-tech headsets for gamers.
Oculus Quest All-in-one VR Gaming Headset – A standalone headset that doesn’t require a phone or a computer and provides a fully immersive experience.
Oculus Rift S PC-Powered VR Gaming Head – A high-end VR headset that connects to your PC.
Samsung Gear VR – A highly rated headset for Samsung mobile phones.
Google Cardboard – This budget options is the simplest version of VR glasses available. Works with Android or iOS phones.
How To Choose Your VR Headset?
What you should buy depends on whether you’re going to enjoy VR experiences occasionally, or you’re going to dive more deeply into the world of VR gaming.
If all you want is casual entertainment or to play simple VR games on your phone, pick the Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR.
For more serious gaming, or if you’re looking for totally immersive experiences, pick a more professional VR headset, such as Oculus Quest or Oculus Rift S . Bear in mind you’ll also need a high-end gaming computer for the latter.
The Future of Virtual Reality Travel
Virtual reality in tourism has a lot of potential. Though it is being adopted quite gradually by the travel industry, there’s little doubt it will make travel more fun and tourism marketing more inspired.
It might also help reduce some of the negative effects of tourism on the environment and help tackle problems of over-tourism.
One of the most interesting innovations in this field comes from Japan.
It sounds like science fiction, but it’s real: avatarin Inc. has developed robotic technology to let us travel as avatars.
When these machines become commercially available, you’ll be able to see what the robot sees and control its movements remotely using a tablet.
This is just the beginning…
An interesting prediction by futurist Ian Pearson says that we may be able to “feel” the sensations at the destinations we visit virtually, thanks to Active Skin.
Another prediction says that by 2050 we will connect our brains to VR devices, so our VR experiences will be completely personalised.
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For now, we’ll have to wait and see how things turn out for VR. I hope it’s going to become more common and even a standard tool in our trip planning toolkits.
I don’t believe for a moment that the sense of freedom that travel gives us or that the way we connect with people when we travel can ever be replaced,
Still, virtual travel can lift your spirit and definitely broaden your mind.