WHAT IF TOURISM COUNTED ON THE METAVERSE?

In 2021, you may have heard of the metaverse: this Web 3.0 that is supposed to transform the Internet and push back the limits of the real world. Mark Zuckerberg, the boss of Meta, has made its development his new hobbyhorse. The goal? Create the “computer platform of the future”: a project taken from science fiction, but which should very soon change our use of social networks and not only. The metaverse could also revolutionize an entire part of our daily lives and, why not, our travels? However, in a tourism sector anchored in the real world, does virtual reality really have its place? Let’s get to the bottom of this.

But what exactly is the metaverse?

To understand what the metaverse is, let’s go back to its origins.

The term “metaverse” in English is a neologism created by the novelist Neal Stephenson in his book “The Virtual Samurai” published in 1992. The etymology of the word, which comes from Greek, already tells us a lot about its meaning. “Meta” translates as “beyond” and “towards” refers to the word “universe”. Taken together, this gives “beyond the universe” or in other words: “parallel world”. The metaverse is a universe of virtual and immersive worlds in which individuals, through their avatars, can interact with each other. It is based on the use of virtual reality helmets whose price, increasingly affordable, will make this technology accessible to the greatest number. Considered by many as the “successor of the Internet”, the metaverse represents a profound cultural change and its emergence in our lives has already begun.

When concert halls were closed due to the pandemic, some artists like Travis Scott or Ariana Grande turned to the game Fortnite to perform in concert. A successful experience that brought fans into the virtual and artistic worlds of the singers. Another video game to meet a great success with tweens: Roblox. Roblox is a game with more than 40 million active players daily in which everyone can create their own space and interacts with others using an avatar. By 2030, Roblox aims to revolutionize learning by becoming a true interactive learning environment for 100 million students. An ambitious project that could transform the school as we know it today.

These events and projects indicate many breakthroughs for the metaverse. A digital revolution is already in progress but is limited to some sectors for now. The tourism industry could see an opportunity for its business.

Metaverse and tourism, why not ?

At first sight, there seems to be a certain opposition between metavers and tourism. The former advocates a digital identity, imaginary universes, virtual interactions and infinite possibilities, while the latter promotes a physical, temporal and finite world, a direct proximity with others and a unique but random experience. However, the alliance of the two is not incompatible and some destinations and tourism companies have already started to work on it.

The capitals of South Korea and Finland are perfect examples. Seoul has just set out to become the first public institution in the world to step into the metaverse. The city’s iconic tourist spots will be able to be visited virtually and destroyed historical sites will be reproduced in the metaverse. The city of Helsinki is also a pioneer in terms of exploring the possibilities of the metaverse. “Virtual Helsinki” is the city’s digital twin, allowing visitors to discover the city anywhere and anytime. The Finnish capital even plans to grant a “virtual nationality”, creating the concept of V-citizens.

In addition, some companies have also taken the plunge into virtual reality, like Club Med. Potential customers can already “try their vacations before booking them” thanks to 360° videos. Another emblematic model: the Lascaux caves, where physical and virtual twins are essential to preserve the original site.

The metaverse could be a real asset in the face of the various challenges faced by the sector. It could be a solution to mass tourism, generate a greater inclusion and democratization of travel, more personalization of stays and could be very useful to convince the customer in the pre-purchase phase.

The metaverse seems to have a promising future, but its development should not be rushed.

The metaverse: a development that raises questions

Following Facebook’s declarations on the metaverse, Iceland was eager to respond in its own way.

In the form of a parody video, where the actor looks like Mark Zuckerberg, the Tourist Office of the island did not hesitate to make fun of the concept carried by the social network. Indeed, with its Icelandverse, Iceland proposes the opposite of the metaverse, i.e. the discovery of the great outdoors, the nature and the wonders which the real world conceals. Through its video, Iceland discusses the limits of the metaverse and its relevance to tourism. The question of the future of our social relations and our anchoring in reality inevitably arises.

The usefulness of the metaverse is to increase the field of possibilities, to open new ways and to work for the common good, while avoiding the drifts that it could cause, at the otherwise risk of moving from a utopia to a dystopia.

Noémie COLOMBU
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