“One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things,” wrote Henry Miller. This inspirational quote from 1957 can be seen in a new light today. Alongside conventional travel, and sometimes even within it, virtual tourism is starting to become common practice. Novels, cinema and fiction in general — the traditional means of escapism — are seeing an emergence of new immersive formats and technologies. More and more mature and convincing, the tools of virtual or augmented reality accompanied by video game storylines that are increasingly finely crafted, are opening up new territories for travel. Evasion, experiences, stories: these innovative formats have many attributes sought by travelers, which leads us to anticipate blossoming innovations in the years ahead.
Towards virtual tourism
Travel enables escape; it allows us to broaden our horizons by exploring the unknown. This objective is shared by fiction, novels, cinema… Today, a middle ground is emerging. More immersive than traditional narrative formats but accessible directly from the living room, VR (Virtual Reality) is filling an unexplored niche. It allows us to instantly and affordably project ourselves to places that are normally financially and physically inaccessible. With its Exoplanet Travel Bureau, NASA enables any VR helmet user to land on a (theoretical) reconstruction of TRAPPIST-1d or Kepler-16b planets, which are respectively 40 and 200 light-years from Earth. The Orbital Views experience, a recent award winner at the Laval Virtual exhibition, facilitates a similar type of exploration on the moon. On a more down to earth level, Marriott’s Teleporter can project you into the most beautiful hotels. Artificial escapism, such as holographic home movies in the science fiction film Minority Report, the avatars in the eponymous film, or even Uncle Scrooge’s “holiday box” from the comic book (as rediscovered in a Figaro Magazine article) has rosy days ahead.
The future looks even brighter due to the potential for imaginative new experiences. Many projects are already freeing us from the restrictive laws of physics or time. With 1964 Tokyo VR, the Japanese radio and television company NHK enables us to travel back in time by more than 50 years to visit the Tokyo Olympic Games. This technical achievement, accomplished through a huge collection of vintage photos, will surely pave the way for other cities to follow. The laws of gravity can also be bent by virtual reality. With Birdly, the age-old dream of experiencing bird flight is now possible. Thanks to a device developed by D3D Cinema and Somniacs, all you need to do is climb onto a full-body flight simulator and wear an HTC Vive headset to become a bird for few brief moments. Finally, VR allows us to circumvent certain difficulties. “It is for all those who cannot move, especially those who are dependent. It also makes it possible to visit tourist sites that are endangered or degraded”, explained Laurent Chrétien, General Manager of Laval Virtual. “It will also allow us to travel less. Remote meeting scenarios are already a reality. Two designers in two different cities can now work together on the same product in virtual reality.”
Beyond the technology itself, ways of storytelling are evolving and plunging users into increasingly complex scenarios. The world of video games has turned towards immersion and notable recent successes of the genre have given a major focus to wandering and exploration. For example, in Journey, an independent multi-award winning game, the entire gameplay is built around traveling. Increasingly often, such experiences are shared. Younger generations are now building shared online universes, regarding the digital world as a territory. For many, the map of Fortnite Island feels more familiar than anywhere in the real world. This is something that is well understood by VR professionals, who strive to create collective VR experiences. Initiatives such as VRtuoz or Facebook Spaces, although awkwardly presented by Mark Zuckerberg, open the way to immersive social networks … “I do not believe for a second that tomorrow we will travel in an essentially static way. However, we will spend more and more time in immersive worlds”, explained Laurent Chrétien.
Tomorrow’s travel will be augmented
The travel industry should see this new era as an opportunity rather than a threat. Far from replacing traditional tourism, such tools can actually “enhance it” and provide new experiences. As such, augmented reality has already proven itself. The ARTGlass project aims to give life to tourist sites through interactive storytelling. Animated holographic tour guides, reconstructions of historical ruins, additional information: the possibilities are immense. In the same vein, the French startup Timescope offers 360° content that allows you to immerse yourself in the history of cities or monuments. It also enables terminals to be deployed to allow you to enjoy such content in a real context. “As a technology, virtual reality creates a very powerful sense of presence. We can see that this sentiment does not encourage immobility, but rather makes it possible to value real travel,” explained Adrien Sadaka, CEO and co-founder of Timescope.
For travel professionals, virtual or augmented reality promises to profoundly transform communication channels and the experiences offered to customers. Advertising, teasers, entertainment: there are many territories still to be explored. Expedia, Club Med or Marriott already offer virtual tours. KLM has developed Tune Into Your Travel, which offers virtual reality games to pass the time while waiting at airports. Beyond customer service, immersive technologies help support communication. Carnival Cruise has thus deployed a campaign led by influencer Zach King, using 360° videos and virtual Easter egg hunts! In Paris, Timescope is currently working on an ambitious project at the heart of SNCF train stations. “We will site devices at major stations in Paris that will enable you to teleport yourself into the future of these sites, but also to glimpse an intriguing, artistically interpreted vision in virtual reality. It’s a real communication and projection tool”, summarized Adrien Sadaka
For BigBlank, the field of innovation is immense. While VR applications for travel are developing, they remain largely unexplored. We can imagine an amazing competition of ideas in the years ahead. Traveler experience, immersive advertising, cultural mediation or virtual worlds, the studio is ready to take up the challenge.