Virtual reality has been hailed as a savior for the travel and tourism industry in this time of pandemic, allowing destinations to continue to engage with travelers through a suite of immersive online content to whet their travel appetite in forecast of travel rebound. With the ability to bridge the divide between the online and offline world, “the future of social media and travel lies in the virtual space where you can meet, wherever you are in real life,” said Laura Olin, COO and partner at Zoan, a virtual reality studio based in Finland. “Today’s teens are spending more time (on video games) like Mind Trap or Fortnite on social media. This is the future we are heading towards, ”she added. Speaking at the ITB Asia 2020 Virtual Session, titled How Virtual Reality is Changing the Way We Experience Travel, Olin said, “You are not tied to any real-life restrictions, but you can explore everything: history, fantasy and the future. These are the same principles that we think of (in) the future of travel and travel marketing. She said destination marketers in the city of Helsinki started embracing the medium in 2018, working with Zoan to conduct virtual reality tours around Helsinki, showcasing its urban nature and its surroundings. attractions for tourists and conference delegates. “(The idea) was quite up to the sustainability goal of Helsinki as a city, as they don’t want to attract all the tourists from all over the world to come, but they want to offer Helsinki in different formats. to people who are interested in the city, ”she said. Olin: Future of travel is in the virtual space where you can meet wherever you are in real life This year the city of Helsinki has teamed up with Zoan to create Virtual Helsinki, a digital twin of the city center. city of Helsinki built in 3D modeling, alongside a virtual concert broadcast across Finland which saw 700,000 participants and 10 million interactions with avatars. “What we are currently working on with Helsinki is a 3D ‘Metaverse’ space that allows people to explore Helsinki in different ways. For example, this summer we made the Helsinki Design Week and Amos Rex Museum exhibition available online, ”she said, adding that the next project will be the Helsinki Biennale next year. “So this is really something that Helsinki has put a lot of emphasis on and they are seen as a forerunner around the world,” she added. Destination marketers can leverage virtual content to reach a wider audience. Olin said, “(Suppliers interact with) not only people who can afford to come on site, but also those who only have a computer and an Internet connection.” During the 15 minute session, Olin also highlighted the business side of video games, stating, “You can actually make money in these spaces. They’re free for everyone, but if you want the full experience you have to swipe your credit card every now and then. Likewise, tourism businesses can take advantage of the growing adoption of digital for profit. Olin said Zoan is currently working with the city of Helsinki to discuss plans on how to monetize virtual travel experiences. “Of course, the idea of destination marketing is that people come and spend their money, but what if you have this virtual space and some of the services are available there? With micro-payments, people around the world could actually leave the money without even visiting the city, ”she said, adding that discussions exploring this idea are ongoing, with plans for“ hopefully ” launch pilot projects “soon”.
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