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Appeal of virtual travel is instant – but limited

A 'try before you buy' VR metaverse experience can help travellers and businesses Commons
A 'try before you buy' VR metaverse experience can help travellers and businesses
  • VR experience boosts bookings
  • Gulf sites offer immersive 3D tours
  • But no replacement for reality

Virtual reality is making it possible for visitors to explore destinations before they travel and see places that would otherwise be inaccessible, but there is much debate over whether it is a replacement for real travel.

“The metaverse can allow destinations to offer ‘try before you buy’ virtual experiences,” said Samuel Huber, CEO of UK metaverse developer Landvault.

For example, Atlantis the Palm in Dubai has created a 360 panoramic virtual reality video which provides a whistle-stop tour of the hotel’s main features. Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island has launched a virtual exploration platform, allowing users to journey through attractions and cultural sites.

And Saudi Arabia’s Royal Commission for AlUla has launched an immersive 3D model of Hegra’s Tomb of Lihyan, son of Kuza, a Unesco World Heritage site.

“Users who experience a destination virtually through the 3D internet will likely express a higher desire to visit the location in person,” Huber told AGBI.

UK travel company Thomas Cook reported a 190 percent increase in bookings for New York trips after an experiment where customers could test a five-minute VR experience of the city in its store. 

The global virtual tour market is projected to surge to $6.5 billion by 2030 from $448.10 million in 2020, according to Allied Market Research. The hope is that users will pay subscriptions or one-off fees to access relevant platforms and apps.

However, while there probably was a rationale for virtual tourism during the Covid-19 pandemic, “its relevance in the post-pandemic world is subject to debate”, said Charaf El Mansouri, CEO at Abu Dhabi travel management platform Dharma. 

“I don’t believe that holds true today. The main limitation of virtual tourism is, well, that it’s virtual,” he said. 

“Screen or headset-based escapism may become more developed and enticing, but when it does become attractive enough, wouldn’t it just be entertainment as opposed to tourism?”