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Why the travel industry has everything to gain from the metaverse

History tends to repeat itself, particularly in the travel industry. We resist or fear change, predicting the end to life in the sector as we know it; then we adapt; we survive; and the learning process is then, somehow, erased from our memory.

For example, do you remember two decades ago when, as the World Wide Web became omnipresent, Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) were predicted to replace all traditional travel agents? Yet today, they co-exist successfully, and if anything, since the pandemic, the human touch and a personalised service has become even more desirable than pre-www.

Today, amid the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), characterised by rapid digitalisation and accelerated innovation, you can smell the fear.

Will robots replace hotel staff? Will people holiday in the metaverse? Will AI take our jobs?

The answers are most definitely no, no and no. New technologies will help not hinder and if robots do step into basic roles, other jobs will be created. It’s just time for a recalibration, that’s all.

The metaverse reality

“In the simplest terms, the metaverse is the internet, but in 3D.” So says Ed Greig, Deloitte’s Chief Disruptor, who talks up its benefits as a form of digital interaction where “connected, virtual experiences can either simulate the real world or imagine worlds beyond it”.

I’m in Ed’s camp because like me, he believes the metaverse is “a tool to connect us as humans and with our planet”.

The metaverse is a medium for sharing stories and building connections, and in the travel industry, that’s what we are all about. So, what are we waiting for?

In a recent blog, WTM looked at ‘6 Ways to Use Virtual Tourism in Your Marketing Strategy’.

Virtual tourism is an experience that enables individuals to explore new locations without having to actually travel to them. It combines aspects of virtual reality with tourism principles and incorporates a range of immersive experiences that involve devices ranging from mobile phones to VR headsets, in other words, the metaverse.

A selling tool like no other

The scope to use the metaverse to market destinations and products is huge. Rather than replace the experience of travel, it whets the appetite, selling, quite literally, ‘the dream’ or the aspiration, and as the blog points out, it’s a marketing tool to take seriously.

Travel agencies, for example, can partner with hotels, tourism boards and experience providers to offer virtual tours of accommodation, destinations, attractions and more. By connecting potential or clients to these places, it’s a new source of travel inspiration.

Knowledge platform Revfine, notes how the metaverse can enhance the booking experience, offering a level of engagement a website just can’t provide.

“Booking in the metaverse might be more like visiting a brick-and-mortar travel agency, allowing users to ask questions of a (real or virtual) agent, negotiate deals, combine products and pay in an easy and convenient way”, says Revfine.

“Even once a customer is at their destination, they could still use the metaverse to raise issues, order food and services, or look into attractions and experiences that they could book via the metaverse.”

Experiencing a place in the metaverse can also boost bookings. For example, Thomas Cook’s VR excursions of Manhattan, offering visitors to their stores a taster of the city, led to a 190% increase in related bookings.

Many organisations are also providing virtual 3D versions of real-life spaces and locations. For example, you can now explore the Louvre Museum in Paris in VR. Virtual visitors can view exhibitions, enjoy concerts, or even meet friends for a virtual stroll around the museum.

The travel sector can leverage this technology in many ways, not only using it to sell destinations and tours to customers planning to visit in person, but perhaps, to collate destination experiences and package them for people who are unable to travel overseas – it’s untapping an entirely new market.

Attracting and training talent

In a recent blog for WTM I discussed the industry’s archaic approach to talent management and welfare. This includes the way in which it is currently tackling recruitment.

Given staff shortages across every sector, particularly in Europe, many companies are looking to the metaverse and virtual reality to speed up the selection and training process.

The obvious starting point is to conduct travel and tourism career fairs and recruitment events in a 3D environment.

Virtual shows can help travel companies, hotels, airlines and many other industry organisations position themselves as a great place to work. Prospective talent could browse career fairs to collect information and meet with virtual company representatives and even take part in preliminary interviews or aptitude tests.

Once staff are recruited, the metaverse can aid and accelerate the training/on board process, with companies including Hilton and more recently, Emirates Airline, announcing such initiatives.

Virtual training in action

Recognised by Forbes as the world’s second-best workplace in 2020, Hilton believes that when

its team members truly feel empathy for the experiences of its guests, they’ll provide the best hospitality service. To develop that empathy, Hilton worked with learning and development company to create innovative learning experiences using the VR platform Oculus.

SweetRush developed VR scenarios to help train hotel team members to better handle challenging interactions with guests. Wearing Oculus headsets, team members take on the role of guests in virtual scenarios that include interactions at a front desk, a meeting room setup, room service, breakfast service and departure to see how it feels when interactions are poorly managed, resolved correctly or handled in a way that goes beyond expectations.

According to an Oculus for Business case study on the initiative, Hilton says that with VR, it can reduce in-class training from four hours to 20 minutes and after team members went through VR training, 87% changed their behaviour.

Meanwhile, Dubai-based Emirates, one of the world’s fastest-growing airlines, has signed a deal with Cubic Global Defense, which traditionally provides realistic military training systems, to train its cabin crew using virtual, immersive and game-based solutions.

Emirates will be the first commercial airline to utilise the system, which will incorporate “high-fidelity visuals with engaging, synthetic environment technologies”. 3D classroom stations and touchscreen interaction will also be integrated in the training programme.

An airline considered at the forefront of innovative airline guest experiences, Emirates has also announced plans to launch NFTs and “exciting experiences in the metaverse” for its customers soon.

A chance to learn

The role of AI, VR and the metaverse will continue to grow in new and surprising ways, but it’s unlikely it will ever replace physical travel.

As these new technologies become more widely used and become more sophisticated, there is an opportunity to assess what industry challenges they can overcome and what solutions they can provide. As Deloitte’s Ed Greig says, we should also “learn from our mistakes with the internet”, not only understanding how best to use new technologies, but determining how to mitigate potential negatives too, from misuse to cybersecurity threats.

What’s clear right now is that the metaverse opens new doors to improving customer and talent engagement and it’s a 3D world worth exploring.