Virtual reality is still a relatively new technology, but it already offers many exciting opportunities for gaming, interaction, and yes, traveling. While many of us are currently restricted in our movements, we can still experience far-flung destinations in vivid 360 degree color.
But virtual reality cannot truly replace the thrill of being there, so it is not likely to negatively impact the tourism industry. In fact, it can only help. Not only does virtual travel support the tourism industry as a whole, it provides access for people who can’t otherwise travel for any reason.
Here are six ways that virtual travel improves the world.
Most of us have limited travel budgets, in that a trip around the entire world is probably out of reach. The problem then is to allocate our tourism dollars in the best way. Some parts of the world are very touristy and trendy, while others are hidden gems that not everyone knows about.
Where you want to go is dependent on your personality and values. But knowing yourself does not mean that you automatically know the most fulfilling places to visit. That takes research. Virtual reality allows you to get a taste of locations you have coveted and those you may never have heard of.
Some people like to land in an exotic location with no advance information about how to get around and what there is to see. But for the planners among us, virtual travel is like a prep course that makes it easier to hit the ground running.
Virtual travel can give you a clear sense of the geography and topography of a place before you get there. It can establish visual clues that help you find the transportation you need to move around. It can teach you landmarks to use in navigation. You can also hone in on the neighborhood you prefer for your hotel and the attractions you don’t want to miss.
When reserving hotels, tours, meals, and other recreation, photos on the booking site give you a sense of what you’re getting. But those pictures are always very carefully shot to reveal only the best angle of a place. They leave out everything that’s around it.
Virtual hotel and recreation tours allow you to look at everything before making a decision. Does that hotel front directly on a noisy road? Are the facilities clean and well-kept? Is the space big enough? Exploring the services you plan to book through VR answers the questions that aren’t typically addressed before you hand over your credit card.
Travel is a valuable undertaking, but for many families, there is little money left over at the end of each month. When we travel, we have to be prepared for a steady stream of cash to flow out for lodging, meals, attractions, transportation, tips, fees, and incidentals.
For many of us, the amount of travel we can afford is way less than the amount we crave. But with virtual reality, we are still able to get a taste of places we may never see in person. Even as we save our pennies for the next trip, we can explore far-flung corners of the world and learn about them.
Some destinations are simply not accessible to people with mobility issues. Machu Picchu in Peru, for example, is a mountainous citadel with hundreds of steps, few places to rest, and a ban on walking sticks. It is also a stunning historical vista that can easily claim a spot on anyone’s bucket list.
Many tourist locations make efforts to provide accessibility for everyone, but some don’t and some can’t due to geographical considerations. Virtual travel, however, is much more accessible. With VR, you can visit places that may otherwise be too difficult or too dangerous.
To be fair, VR itself does have some issues with accessibility, especially for users who are blind, struggle to hold a controller, or can’t move their bodies in certain ways. Developers are working on making VR more accessible, but it’s important to keep the pressure on so that they are aware the demand is real and significant.
Tourism is excellent for the economy but can be devastating for the environment. On Mount Everest, for example, overtourism has resulted in an ecological disaster of human waste, trash, and frozen bodies. All over the world, waterways, soil, animal populations, and air quality are being impacted by many thousands of humans passing through every year.
Virtual travel can provide the experience of a location without your physical presence. As certain oft-visited areas are forced to limit the number of guests, you can still get an immersive look because others before you shot virtual footage.
At this point, virtual travel is not as “real” as the real thing. In some ways it’s better, such as affordability and accessibility. But virtual visitors still miss the smells and the tactile opportunities of actually being there. No doubt as VR technology improves, these issues will be addressed. One day we may all be able to visit the holodecks of our favorite sci-fi television shows. However, the VR of today already offers considerable benefits that make virtual travel a blessing for humankind.