The term metaverse came into our collective consciousness when Facebook rebranded itself Meta, with a focus on providing a completely new type of experience. Since then, we all seem to have our own interpretation of what that might mean. Is the metaverse a virtual reality gamification experience? Is it the creation of avatars (our digital twins) that do various tasks, such as attend meetings for us? It is all that, and perhaps more, as the concept continues to expand. It is a new, immersive world where physical meets digital, and people can create, buy, sell, work, play and socialize virtually, just as they do in the real world.
Every industry sector will be directly impacted by technology that provides the kind of experience the metaverse offers. That happens to be true for the travel sector as well. The metaverse can help travel brands guide a traveler’s journey through a differentiated and immersive experience, but it certainly can’t rival the actual travel experience.
Travel appeals to all five human senses. The metaverse appeals to the human visual and auditory senses, but until it can rival the experience of taste, touch and feel, the metaverse will not replace travel. The metaverse does, however, provide interesting opportunities for travel enterprises to enhance the experience and perhaps monetize a new channel.
Potential Use Cases Travel Brands Will Explore
The metaverse offers enormous potential for pre-travel planning assistance. Travelers can take virtual, three-dimensional walkthroughs of hotel rooms, airline cabins, airport terminals and destinations, for an “almost real” experience before investing in a trip. Virtual concierges can also curate personalized experiences, embedding augmented and virtual reality technology. Qatar Airways recently announced Qverse with a MetaHuman cabin crew, providing an immersive experience to tour, navigate and check-in at Hamad International Airport.
Non-fungible token (NFTs) marketplaces will become more commonplace, offering travelers a virtual store to buy amenities, art, experiences and more through a hotel, cruise line or a casino/gaming outlet. This could mean experiences that would be familiar for today’s travelers, such as connected devices for optimized directions for airports, casino, ships or hotels, or location-specific marketing, to wildly different experiences, such as virtual art for the hotel room on an upcoming trip, a showcase of the destination, a virtual tour of a virtual museum where all the curated assets are NFTs, or even a virtual “timeshare” in a three-dimensional metaverse resort property.
Some cruise lines are reported to be preparing to offer downloadable virtual goods and tokens for use in virtual worlds, NFTs for commercial transactions, digital retail store services and virtual cruise entertainment. Opportunities even exist to buy a ticket on a virtual Titanic cruise in the metaverse.
Travel and hospitality companies can ease post-vacation letdown with virtual experiences that mimic and recreate the real-life trip. Brands can create and gamify a virtual world where users adopt avatars that design and buy merchandise or redeem NFTs for loyalty programs.
Beyond the travelers, travel brands will use the metaverse to improve employee experience, including access to virtual worlds, avatar creation, NFT creation and almost real-life training.
How Should Travel Brands Start Their Metaverse Journey?
As a first step, travel brands need a digital IT backbone that can support the architectural nuances of the metaverse, built on 5G, edge computing devices, cloud computing, connected smart devices and more, to drive better or contextual engagement and hyper-personalized experiences. Next, travel brands must create and capitalize on the right technology and the right NFTs. For all the possibilities of using and trading NFTs in the metaverse, blockchain will provide transaction support and smart contracts.
We are at least a few years away from a truly permeable, ubiquitous metaverse. While the digital technology building blocks enterprises are putting in place will serve them well for applications beyond the metaverse, the critical factor for metaverse success is the ability to be fluid across platforms. In other words, metaverse users will need to be able to move seamlessly between airline, ground transportation and the hotel/casino/cruise experience and entertainment, which means the technologies and capabilities each of those enterprises build must be synchronous and interoperable. It is here, in the intersections between organizations, that the challenges, and the magic, exist.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Pratibha Salwan is based in Atlanta and leads the Travel, Transportation, Hospitality and Logistics (TTHL) sector for ISG. With more than 28 years of experience working across the globe, she has spent the past 20 years in the U.S. incubating, growing and expanding her work with digital technologies across the TTHL vertical. She has worked with clients in the Airline, Travel, Transportation, Hospitality, Logistics and Retail industries, and has been responsible for leading the digital charge for multiple organizations, providing domain-led technology solutions.
Ranjith Kutty is based in Chicago and is the Chief Strategy Officer at Tech4TH Solutions. Over the last 22 years, he has played a wide range of roles across software programming, consulting, and solution development with digital technologies. For over 15 years, he has been engaged in the Travel, Transportation and Hospitality space working with leading airlines, hotel brands, vacation rentals, car rental companies and travel technology companies. At Tech4TH, he crafts strategy and solves problems for customers in the Travel and Hospitality industry.