VR should encourage active tourism and enhance our travelling experiences.
VR will play an important part in future travel by previewing, facilitating and enriching traveller experiences in useful and exciting ways, yet not entirely substituting real-life adventures with VR experiences, no matter how convincing and realistic. In fact, that future is in many ways here already. With numerous VR applications already available, a would-be traveller can have a thorough VR and 3D preview of an intended hotel or restaurant at their destination. At the Hotelympia exhibition, held at Excel London between 29 February and 3 March 2016, a registered visitor was able to enjoy a walk-in immersive VR experience by exploring the newly-built Hilton Bankside hotel in London and appraise the ambience, if not yet the food, of two brand-new London restaurants: German Gymnasium in the King’s Cross area and M Restaurant in Victoria.
The popular VirtualTourist website (www.virtualtourist.com), which already has 1.3 million members, apart from offering VR previews of thousands of destinations and hotels can also put you in touch with a real-life local travel guide to advise on the issues still outside of VR’s reach.
VR and AR are already helping travellers to overcome language barriers. One of the linguistic tools, ‘Word Lens’ (recently bought by Google and incorporated into Google Translate (translate.google.co.uk), involves translating printed words from one language to another in real time using the video camera built into a smartphone - with no Internet access needed.
People with severe disabilities and illnesses can also use VR to ‘travel’ the world. Using the Oculus Rift headset (www.oculusvr.com), users can visit all four corners of the globe from the comfort of their hospital beds or, indeed, armchairs.
The same Oculus Rift headset is increasingly used by package holiday companies. Thomas Cook, for example, invites potential customers to take virtual tours of hotels and resorts, with sounds, such as those of birds, crickets or the ocean surf, added to the VR images. They can also look inside Thomas Cook’s plane fleet cabins and decide exactly where they would like to sit.
The most ambitious of all existing VR companies specialising in travel is perhaps Silicon Valley-based Jaunt (www.jauntvr.com/about), which uses omni-directional round cameras in combination with 3D microphones to recreate real-life destinations in minute detail as well as to record real-life events happening there (carnivals, parades, football games etc). According to those who had tested Jaunt’s VR technologies, it is like actually being at the location and having things pop out at you, for the user has an impression of being transported to the actual setting of the recording camera in real time.
No matter how sophisticated VR and AR can become in the future, physical human interaction will always remain the cornerstone of travel. Yet all those amazing technologies, such as the already-existing Dassault Systemes’ VR and AR recreations of Paris, Singapore and Egyptian pyramids (http://www.3ds.com/passion-for-innovation), will continue to enhance our travel experiences, making them much more educational and fun.
In the words of Professor Bernard Fischer, the world’s leading expert on virtual heritage, a typical travel guidebook of the future will be “a VR- and AR-based simulation of the tourist destination which exploits the principles of problem-based learning to encourage active tourism... when the visitor no longer passively follows a guide, but is actively engaged in a quest or adventure”.