The Rise of Virtual Tourism

I saw a new mobile app on Product Hunt today by Ascape, it reminded me of a conversation I was having with friends about the inevitability of virtual tourism. This is an idea that seems unlikely to others but seems totally inevitable to me.

I haven’t studied the landscape of existing options but I can imagine it follows what Ascape is offering: pre-recorded 360-degree virtual tours of popular locations. These serve as a new form of on-demand video content, which is itself interesting, but only begins to hint and what the future holds. I think the name Ascape is apt as virtual tourism will form a type of escape of one’s constraints (be it time, physical condition or geographic location).

I think VR tourism will initially mirror the experience of the Web, and we see that already. Two use cases will anchor its early development:

  1. Short escapes during the day (akin to browsing YouTube)
  2. Preview of places you plan to visit (travel planning and research)

The Virtual Tourist

I think a paid virtual vacation in the hundreds, or even thousands of dollars, will come and for some it will serve as an actual replacement for a physical vacation (or at least act as a secondary vacation).

Here’s what I think must occur before this becomes a (virtual) reality:

  • VR hardware like the Oculus Rift must be commonplace (since Facebook owns it, it will get affordable). I await a Mac version!
  • The virtual tours must be in real-time and guided by local experts (this is to say that they must permit a two-way conversation).
  • Multiple people must be able to share the experience regardless of their location (i.e. to one another and the guide).
  • You must feel there is some extra autonomy beyond changing your gaze (e.g. perhaps you can follow your own interests during a tour, verbally bargain at an open market, etc.)
  • You must be able to access exclusive experiences and/or those most people cannot easily perform physically (e.g. exclusive access to Cannes film festival, a suborbital trip to space, climbing Mount Everest, scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef).

Imagine a fully immersive VR experience with streaming HD video + 3D sound at an exclusive location in real-time with a knowledgeable guide, joined by friends and family (that are spread apart physically or unable to travel). Might you not try it out? What would you pay for that?

This might seem far off but so did fully-autonomous electric vehicles which will be in our driveways by 2020.

What do you think?