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Travel industry news

12 Jun 2019
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‘Virtual reality could signal the end of tourism’

Twice in the past week I’ve had flashbacks to August 2017 and “the frightening vision of the travel industry” that occupied my mind at the time.

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“Should demand continue to increase as expected, then the requirement to limit numbers will follow suit, resulting in higher costs that could price people out of the “real” market and into the arms of the cheaper “virtual” alternative.”

Via a TTG column that month, I detailed a world where virtual tourism had usurped physical travel. From the comfort of their sofas, virtual travellers were transported to their chosen destinations in a jiffy where they were able to immerse themselves in the local sights, sounds and smells, and explore the culture and great treasures intimately – free from the usual crowds and costs.


My vision had been prompted by a Guardian article on digital wanderlust, facilitated by video gaming technology that is already replicating the real world in the virtual one.


“As technology enables video game worlds to be ever more finely rendered on the screen, so the tug of digital wanderlust grows stronger,” it read.


“No need to gamble your wages on a plane ticket to a destination whose wonders might be fully exhausted three days into a fortnight’s trip. For a fraction of the cost, a video game will transport you to (insert destination) from the comfort of the couch.”


Hopping back to the present and flicking through TTG, 13 May, I come to “a new take on training” in which Abigail Healy introduces me to virtual fams. By using “360-degree virtual tours, video, images and gamification”, Spinning Globe is creating VFams, allowing agents to “follow the trip starting at the airport and take in accommodation, activities and attractions” along the way.

"So we are starting to train travel agents using the same technology that, in theory, could develop to facilitate their downfall in years to come. Hmm."

So we are starting to train travel agents using the same technology that, in theory, could develop to facilitate their downfall in years to come. Hmm.


At the recent Barclays Travel Forum, Abta’s director of destinations and sustainability Nikki White Wright and Antor chair Tracey Poggio discussed the future for holiday hotspots, with overtourism prominent in the discussion – a huge and growing challenge for our industry. We are already seeing countries and cities taking action to limit tourist numbers to key sites.


The Peruvian government has been limiting daily visitors to Machu Picchu for a couple of years. In Cambodia, ticket prices to Angkor Wat have nearly doubled in an attempt to lessen the flow.


Tourist taxes are being introduced in more cities and are increasing rapidly in those where they are already in place. Santorini and Dubrovnik have also taken action to cap daily cruise ship visitor numbers.


Should demand continue to increase as expected, then the requirement to limit numbers will follow suit, resulting in higher costs that could price people out of the “real” market and into the arms of the cheaper “virtual” alternative.


As more and more people take personal responsibility to reduce their impact on the environment, so the number of flights they choose to take will reduce – travelling “virtually” could become the “right thing” to do.


In 2017, my frightening vision for travel was perhaps a little tongue in cheek. Two years on, I write with rather less flippancy.


Richard Dixon is director of Holidaysplease

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