Chapter 8: The Future of VR in Tourism

In 1995, Cheong predicted that even though VR development was still hindered by a lack of proper technology at the time, it would very soon rise in popularity to achieve its full potential. He mentions that the tourism and travel industry is perfectly suited to implement VR. Several of his predictions have become a reality by now, so without a doubt there is a need to look further into the future. There are several aspects that are currently in discussion regarding the future VR development. While some researchers are dealing with the issue of tourists’ acceptance of virtual travel as elaborated above, selected tourism companies are envisioning a future dominated by VR.

There are also some predictions from tourism researchers. For example, Pengfei, Ying, and Xiuying (2014) take a specific reference to several of the technologies introduced in chapter 4 of this article and give more detail about possible target groups for VR marketing in tourism, with major VR influences expected in as little as five years.

Virtual tourism products based on virtual vision technology of Oculus Rift, the induction technology of Virtuix Omni, technologies of fourth or more dimensional movie and overall perspective may probably come to the market in 5 or 10 years. The product may be used in tour simulation of outer space or abyssal sea, heritage or ancient site reappearance, disaster experience, sealed-off heritage site that closed for protection reasons or environmentally fragile landscapes. It may also be used as a supplementary tool for marketing. The market segment could be senior citizens, disabled individuals, travel agencies or those who are interested in the product. To a certain extent, the product may also be a protection of fragile environment and a release of tourism pressure in large populated country such as China. (Pengfei, Ying & Xiuying, 2014)

Many companies in the tourism industry have their sights set towards the future, and some even go so far and publish reports about their expected future developments. As an example, in the 2014 Skyscanner report ‘The Future of Travel 2024’, published by the company which is mostly known for offering a global travel search engine, they envision VR as a major influence on touristic experiences. They predict VR to “become a new form of show rooming, an incredible 3D taste of a destination that will make travelers long to experience the real thing.” (Skyscanner, 2014, p.24). In further elaboration, they explain that haptic technologies will also influence the way how we book travel and how we prepare for it. Through clever technologies, we will be able to feel the sand on the beach before we actually get there or the mossy ground under our feet in a virtual rain forest. But technology doesn’t just stop at that. By combining it even more into the VE, the potential customers could feel what it is like to touch fluttering flags in the simulated environment, strengthening our perceived sense of presence even further (Skyscanner, 2014).

The company Amadeus, known as a global provider of IT solutions in the travel industry, has also recently published a report with a future outlook, mentioning their opinion on how VR will impact the travel industry. They use the following words to describe a future with VR in the year 2030:

The level of immersion achieved by VR means customers will choose to visit VR spaces in comfortable and static surroundings. VR storefronts or spaces will be as important as a website is today for airlines, giving potential customers a chance to experience trips before they buy. This ‘try-before-you-buy’ business model will be standard in the travel industry, and VR is going to be a standard feature of the in-flight entertainment system in 2030. One of the most valuable services in VR will be for travellers to recreate their trips when they return: the ‘re-experience’ market will be one of the largest new travel markets. (Lundy, 2015)

While these company outlooks are certainly not expected to become a reality in the short-term, it can be noted that the industry’s expectations are set pretty high. Amadeus even sees a whole new market of re-living previous experiences. This should be sufficient motivation for tourism stakeholders, such as destinations, to deal further with the topic and explore their options.

Another factor motivating tourism stakeholders to keep an eye open for opportunities in VR marketing should be the analyses from major investment research firms such as Goldman Sachs and Piper Jaffray regarding the global market share and penetration of VR. The analysts of Goldman Sachs expect VR to grow into a business worth 80 billion US dollars by 2025 (base case; accelerated uptake scenario valued at $182bn). When compared to the expected gaming console market share of 14 billion US dollars, it becomes clear that VR has great potential to impact or even disrupt many industries, several of which have been highlighted before in this article (Bellini et al., 2016).

Piper Jaffray has also released an analysis where they estimate a global market share of 70 billion US dollars for VR. They also point out the infinite possibilities that VR offers across all industries and expect a market penetration similar to the one we experienced with smartphones (Munster et al., 2015). While Goldman Sachs predicts a software and application market share of VR to be around $35bn, Piper Jaffray is estimating software share to be at a more moderate $5bn until 2025 (software share is part of previously mentioned estimates). As tourism businesses would not likely profit from hardware sales, the software aspect is of a lot more importance to them, however, as can be seen, the estimates still differ greatly. Yet, more important will be the share of consumers that can be reached when offering (free) VR content. Nevertheless, the analyses show incredible growth potential for the entire VR market.

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