With countries around the world closing their borders, there has been an unprecedented halt to global tourism. This has made people look for different ways to scratch that travel itch. One of these has been given a major boost in recent times—virtual reality (or VR) technology, along with 360-degree videography. But, is virtual travel here to stay even after the pandemic subsides?

Thanks to virtual travel, anyone can see places around the globe from the comfort of their home. It’s a trend that has been around for a while, but it’s taken a pandemic for most people to truly embrace it. So, what will it look like in the future? 

What Will This Article Cover

Let’s take a look at what virtual tourism means for travellers, whether it will continue to hold people’s interest, and whether travelling virtually will last beyond the pandemic. 

Also read: 25 incredible ways to experience virtual travel

So, What Is Virtual Travel?

Virtual reality travel is “a simulation of an existing location, usually composed of a sequence of videos or still images”. Essentially, it’s about experiencing a place without physically being there. Since it was first introduced in 1994, virtual tours have been used quite regularly, but it was usually seen as a gimmick or an advertising opportunity. 

How It Can Help Save The World

OvertourismHowever, in the past few years, virtual reality has been touted as a possible eco-friendly solution to the problem of overtourism. It can help divert the volume of tourists, easing the burden on a destination’s infrastructure. And with the world seeing such a positive environmental impact of all of us staying home, it’s definitely worth considering. 

Another great benefit is that VR travel can bring parts of the world to people who would otherwise be physically incapable of visiting them, or to let people visit places that are otherwise inaccessible and closed to the public (such as vulnerable cave paintings, or delicate ancient ruins).

Can It Help You “Try Before You Buy”?

Virtual City ToursInstead of treating a virtual travel experience as the destination, it’s likely that it can be used as a sample, or a taste of a destination to visit. In the past, it has been used by airlines, travel agencies and tourism boards to market destinations to potential customers. So, this is something that could see greater application in the future. 

What It Will Need To Achieve This

artificial intelligenceVirtual reality may never completely replace travel, but it offers a lot of possibilities. However, much of this will be determined by the evolution of technology. Currently, virtual travel offers limited sensations, focusing just on sight and sound, but not smell, touch or taste. Additionally, these experiences tend to be quite short (up to a few hours at most) and sometimes require heavy headsets that aren’t really comfortable to wear, or easily accessible to everyone. 

Of course, researchers are always looking for ways to make VR more and more immersive, but while enhanced sensory experiences might make a destination more realistic, it won’t fulfil the deeper need that compels us to travel. 

What Can Virtual Reality NOT Replace?

Virtual experiences only extend only as far as they’re engineered. You can’t choose to leave behind the established path and explore a side street, or spontaneously take a day trip unless those options have already been programmed. For tourists who are more focused on experience and discovery, it can be incredibly tough for VR to replicate. On a fundamental level, it’s an experience constructed for you, preventing you from deciding what you want to do and see. This means that a virtual tour can be constructed to remove all unpleasant experiences, from crowds to touts. 

So, Is Virtual Travel Here To Stay?

While virtual reality has lots of amazing aspects to it, the technology isn’t yet at a place where it can disrupt the travel industry or cause a significant drop in physical travel. However, there are lots of things it can do, such as give a taste of a destination, or let you explore an unnaturally empty museum. Virtual reality can bring faraway places closer to us, and perhaps, one day soon, do much much more.

Also read: 15 breathtaking virtual tours of nature you must take

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