By Jayanth Sharma, Co-founder & CEO at Toehold
The Travel Industry today is startled by this new age technology marvel called Virtual Reality (VR) and is a trending topic in the Industry at the moment. Virtual Reality ever since its emergence has managed to garner wide acceptance in the various segment such real estate, automobile and so on. Hospitality is one such segment, where VR is playing an increasingly popular role, which allows customers to see exactly what they are signing up for, using VR headsets. These VR headsets let customers experience a 360o view of hotel rooms and holiday resorts.
Now Virtual Reality didn’t stop at that and has continued to grow further. It has entrenched itself very well in the vacation segment and has taken on bigger roles than simply selling rooms. Making voracious inroads into the segment, VR has compelled travelers and travel companies to question if VR could replace real-life travel. This question has been haunting the segment for some time now and leaves them wondering, can VRs divert the inclination of people to simply hit the roads to travel and not just watch but visit their dream destinations for real.
Intrigued and driven by the same curiosity, we chanced upon an interesting survey conducted by a European tour specialist Italy4Real. It was a global survey with over 1000 adult participants and as reported in its findings, while 46% showed an inclination towards investing into virtual reality travel experience, a whopping 81% were convinced that no virtual experience could ever replace the desire for real-life travel. Adding to the stance of the majority, 92% also stated that a VR head set tour of a place doesn’t count as traveling, as they have not visited or stayed in a place, it’s simply watching some place. However, contradicting their own stance, a good 77% also stated that VR could be a good idea for people who are physically unfit to travel.
Substantiating, these stats with theories, the participants clarified as to why Virtual Reality doesn’t amount to much when it comes to real-life traveling. It is the difference between Watching and Visiting or Staying. A VR tour has no smell, no sound, no atmosphere etc. The VR headset does not offer local hospitality, food, drinks and most importantly its people. Cutting the long story short, while VR headsets could be commendable to sell those destinations; replacing it with real-life travel beats the whole purpose of traveling.
While it is still in its infancy and is far from becoming mainstream, Virtual Reality is slowly becoming an integral part of the vacation segment. Furthermore, with the travel industry being intrigued by its potential, discussions around its role are vital for people in the segment to stay ahead of it.
While we have already established that VR headsets are not replacing real-world travel, what we agree with is – Virtual Reality could help a great deal at the pre-booking stage. Replacing real-world travel with VR in the current scenario is unfathomable, but people would certainly love to take a sneak peek into their vacation, for instance, a VR video of Hiking up some mountain peak, or a walk along the Great Wall of China. We believe virtual reality could be a great way to encourage and influence travelers’ decision to travel, but a real-world traveling is the only way to get a full sensory experience of travel. It is certainly not something compares to that authentic travel experience.