Millions of people travel to different cities or countries to explore new cultures, visit historic landmarks, go on exciting adventures, or relax. In the past, tourists typically traveled to their destination via plane, train, boat, or car. Once they arrived, they could stay with friends or family, camp under the stars, check into a hotel, or reserve a room in a vacation rental.
However, the way that tourists experience other parts of the world is changing thanks to extended reality technologies. What is extended reality tourism and why is it becoming increasingly popular? Here’s what you need to know:
What is Extended Reality Tourism?
“Extended reality” is an umbrella term for all immersive technologies, which include virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality.
Virtual reality is a technology that transports users to a computer-generated simulation of an alternative world. The technology shuts the real world out in order to fully immerse the user in this simulated environment. They are even able to move around and interact with elements of their simulated environment.
Augmented reality is a technology that allows users to superimpose elements from the digital world onto their real world environment. Users can superimpose various digital elements such as text, images, and animations. Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality does not shut the real world out. Instead, it uses digital elements to add to or enhance the real world.
Mixed reality is a blend of virtual and augmented reality technologies.
Extended reality tourism involves using virtual reality, augmented reality, and/or mixed reality technologies to experience other places.
How COVID-19 Led to the Rise of Extended Reality Tourism
The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic impacted nearly every sector of the economy, but none were hit quite as hard as the tourism industry. Some countries closed their borders to tourists, whereas others issued stay-at-home or lockdown orders that prohibited or severely restricted travel.
However, the tourism industry did not bounce back once these orders were lifted. Even when countries started to open up again, most people were still hesitant to travel due to health concerns.
The impact of the pandemic will be felt on the tourism industries of all countries, but it will have the biggest impact on countries that rely heavily on tourism for jobs and economic growth.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that the sharp decline in international tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic will cause a loss of more than $4 trillion to the global GDP.
Furthermore, more than 100 million jobs in the tourism industry are at risk as a result of the pandemic.
Over a year later, the pandemic is still raging on, and the tourism industry is still suffering. But now, the tourism industry is beginning to embrace extended reality in an effort to adjust to this new normal.
Because so many people still aren’t willing to travel, some companies are using extended reality to offer stay-at-home travel experiences. This benefits both consumers and the tourism industry. Extended reality tourism gives consumers the opportunity to travel the world safely and at a fraction of the cost. This technology also creates a new revenue stream for companies that are struggling to stay afloat in the tourism industry.
Extended Reality Tourism in the Real World
There are countless extended reality tourism experiences available to consumers today. Some examples include:
- Petra Xplore App
- Faroe Islands’ Remote Tourism
- Baalbek Ruins Virtual Tour
- Virtual Aurora Tours
- Atlantis, The Palm Hotel Tour
- Acroptolis AR and VR App
Petra Xplore App
Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Jordan. In June 2020, city officials launched the Petra Xplore App, which uses virtual reality technology to transport users to the historical city.
Users can see the entire city–and its most famous landmarks–at scale. They can walk through and explore numerous points of interest, including the amphitheater, great temple, monastery, and tombs.
As users explore the city, a voiceover plays to help them understand what they are looking at and its historical significance.
This app, which was already being developed before the COVID-19 pandemic, helps tourists from around the world experience the city of Petra without ever leaving home.
Faroe Islands’ Remote Tourism
The Faroe Islands’ economy relies heavily on tourism, which is why officials decided to launch an extended reality tourism experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Remote Tourism Tool gives tourists the power to explore the mountains, waterfalls, and other parts of the Faroe Islands using a smartphone, tablet, or computer.
Tourists can also interact with locals in real time. The locals who choose to participate will then act as the tourist’s tour guide as they virtually explore the islands. This creates an unforgettable, authentic experience for tourists.
Baalbek Ruins Virtual Tour
The Baalbek Reborn Virtual Tour was launched in March 2021. This virtual tour gives tourists access to three-dimensional reconstructions of the state of the Baalbek Ruins in the third century AD. In other words, it allows tourists to travel back in time to see what the Baalbek Ruins looked like thousands of years ago.
Tourists can see famous sites such as the Temple of Bacchus, the Temple of Venus and the Temple of the Muses. It is a fully immersive experience that makes tourists feel as if they are actually on the ground exploring these historic ruins.
Virtual Aurora Tours
Many tourists dream of seeing the northern lights in person. Now, they can make this dream a reality by taking a virtual tour of the lights. The Virtual Aurora Tour is a short virtual reality video that transports tourists to Sweden, where they can see the northern lights appear in the skies above Abisko National Park.
The Swedish travel company that created this tour also plans on releasing other virtual reality videos that transport tourists to the Aurora Sky Station.
Atlantis, The Palm Hotel Tour
Some companies are using extended reality to help tourists decide where to stay once they start traveling in-person. One example of this is the Atlantis, The Palm hotel in Dubai. This hotel gives tourists the opportunity to take a virtual tour of the hotel online. They can walk through the lobby, check out the biggest suite in the hotel, and explore on-site activities and amenities such as the aquarium, gardens, and pool.
This fully immersive virtual experience helps tourists understand what it would be like to stay at the hotel, which makes it easier for them to decide whether they should make a reservation.
Acroptolis AR and VR App
Tourists who visit the Acropolis in person will be given an iPad mini that they can use to access the Acroptolis AR and VR app. The app uses augmented reality and virtual reality to show tourists what this historic site looked like thousands of years ago. To access this experience, tourists simply need to point their iPad camera in any direction. The app will then show them a three-dimensional reconstruction of what that specific area looked like in the past.
Is Extended Reality Tourism Here to Stay?
There’s no question that the COVID-19 pandemic led to the rise of extended reality tourism. But what will happen to extended reality tourism once the pandemic is over?
Some experts believe that extended reality tourism will keep growing in popularity long after the pandemic is over. These experts believe that extended reality tourism will continue to appeal to tourists who are looking for an inexpensive way to travel the world. It will also appeal to people who can’t travel due to physical limitations, work constraints, or family obligations.
Experts also believe that extended reality tourism could be used in the classroom to take students on virtual field trips. This would allow teachers to take their students anywhere in the world within the span of a single school day.
Other experts believe that extended reality tourism will slowly start to fade away after the pandemic is over. These experts believe that extended reality tourism faces certain challenges that are far too difficult to overcome.
For example, even though these technologies have been around for years, many consumers still don’t know what they are or the benefits of using them. Getting consumers to adopt these technologies is a significant challenge for the extended reality tourism industry.
It may also be difficult for consumers to access extended reality tourism experiences. This is because consumers may need a virtual reality headset or augmented reality glasses to access certain experiences.
Some experts believe that extended reality will be used on-site at tourist attractions long after the pandemic is over. These experts think that extended reality technologies will enhance the tourist experience at these attractions.
However, other experts disagree. These experts believe that foot traffic at major tourist attractions will increase after the pandemic is over and it is safe to travel again. This increase in foot traffic will make it more difficult for tourists to enjoy the extended reality experience on-site. For example, if a museum is crowded with people, it may be more difficult to safely use a virtual reality headset. The people walking by could also “break” the augmented reality experience by interfering with the superimposed digital elements.
There’s no way of knowing whether extended reality tourism will continue to grow in popularity once the COVID-19 crisis has been resolved. But for now, extended reality tourism is drastically changing the way in which people travel and experience other destinations.