The metaverse and the future of travel

The metaverse is changing the travel landscape and Mike Tansey, managing director, growth markets travel industry lead, Accenture shares his thoughts on how to embrace it

You have probably heard the word ‘metaverse’ over the last year, evoking a future of a persistent and shared virtual reality space. As we’ve seen from the past two years, the barriers between what is physical and digital have all but blurred, with consumers being increasingly comfortable with virtual experiences. In fact, according to Accenture’s research, 64 per cent of consumers worldwide had already purchased a virtual good or taken part in a virtual experience of service in the past year – a number that increases to 74 per cent when we zoom into those living in Asia.

These findings are unsurprising given the fact that many people were forced to look inwards and re-evaluate their priorities over the course of the pandemic. Accenture’s Life Reimagined research found that many consumers are now applying their post-pandemic mindsets to where, what and how they buy, and this is driven by a number of factors, which include:

Health and safety: After more than a year of social distancing, constant handwashing and wearing masks everywhere, consumers are highly attuned to the health and safety of any experience. Against this backdrop, travellers will want evidence of health and safety protocols, and it is important to reassure travellers that this has taken place.

Service and personal care: Consumers are seeking personal experiences with brands, and requiring clear and easy options for contacting customer service. They want to be understood – how their needs and objectives change during times of disruption and have those needs addressed. Travel companies that understand this are well positioned to win in a new reality where rapidly evolving circumstances and unpredictable events are the norm.

Trust and reputation: In the travel industry, strong ethical values are the top reasons for loyalty among customers. Many have come to expect companies to do the right thing for them and not just for the business. Businesses will need to prove that they are who they say they are, and stand for the things they stand for.

These factors, paired with consumers’ increased familiarity with engaging with the virtual world, beg the question: how can the travel industry leverage the metaverse to adapt to customers’ changing priorities, and what are the opportunities that will arise because of it?

Encouraging tourism equity
Understandably, post-pandemic, health and well-being are front of mind, and people want to be sure they are not putting their health at risk. There will be customer segments, such as the elderly and those with disabilities, who may not be able to travel due to health reasons.

The metaverse allows these people to ‘travel’ from the comfort of their homes, recreating landmarks in all their past glory or allowing them to experience different locales in an immersive way, which they cannot explore within real-life interaction.

In addition, consumers who have issues with mobility will be able to virtually sample flights, hotel rooms, and even attractions, allowing them to determine if their provider of choice may be accessible prior to taking their trip, helping build trust.

Engage new customer segments
Another major post-pandemic trend is a rise in travel expenditures. After two lost years, people are treating themselves to a higher class of travel as a well-deserved ‘reward’. This opens up the opportunity for the metaverse to introduce luxury travel to groups who typically cannot afford it.

By giving consumers the option to sit in a virtual first-class seat, experience the lounge or walk around a hotel resort or room, it opens up opportunities to truly engage and inspire people, providing personalised services even before they travel.

This ‘try before you buy’ ethos that the metaverse allows builds trust and reputation; consumers would be able to understand ‘why luxury’ and comprise a new aspirational segment of potential future customers. For existing customers, the metaverse heightens the luxury experience by providing the means for informed decision-making.

VR and AR functions are also able to provide experiences that are not limited by physical reality. Through creating a digital twin, travel and hospitality providers can transport consumers to alternate spaces or even time periods. This opens up a wealth of new segments that travel providers can target, including education. For example, students learning about the effects of global warming are not able to just see the glaciers in front of them, but able to go ‘back-in-time’, or even years in the future for a glimpse of the potential reality of melting glaciers.

Opportunities for business travel
These functions are also relevant for business travel, especially as consumers expect to travel less for work post-pandemic. In this current climate, where companies are increasingly selective, building trust and reputation will be key to driving growth. The ability to ‘try before you buy’ can play a key role in events and conferences, giving the ability to see a location before booking, especially as hybrid meetings become more commonplace.

The metaverse can also further build trust through allowing travel advisors to provide services through the metaverse, helping customers manage and design their travel journey in a personalised way.

Not a replacement, but an enhancement
It is important to recognise that the metaverse is not intended to replace physical travel, but rather provide a complementary enhancement to an overarching experience that, over time, may become an essential part of the travel ecosystem. As the technology develops, the opportunities for a more immersive, more emotionally powerful means to engage consumers over existing channels will inevitably arise, offering a rich and interactive way to inspire consumers to buy travel in the years to come.

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