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The tourism sector takes a look at the metaverse

If you have nothing planned on May 22, how about a return trip to Benidorm… without leaving your home? On this date, the famous seaside resort on the east coast of Spain, on the Costa Blanca, is launching BenidormLand, a metaverse (or metaverse) which will be accessible to the 140 million users of the Steam online gaming platform. The promise of this pilot project, developed with the Spanish company SIX3D? An immersion in the city, between beaches and skyscrapers, as if we were there.

Tourism players still not very interested in the metaverse in France

Benidorm is the first European tourist destination to announce its positioning in the metaverse, this immersive and interactive virtual world which has been gaining momentum since July 2021, after Marc Zuckerberg announced the construction of a metaverse by Facebook (by the way renamed Meta). “This evolution of the Internet is part of a context where social networks are in a very competitive environment with the arrival of new entrants. There may be a saturation of users, who need to change platform or to experiment with new ways of communicating”comments Naïma Aïdi, doctoral student in information and communication sciences, specializing in tourism.

Cities in Asia, including Seoul and Tokyo, have also announced their arrival on the metaverse. South Korea’s capital is planning to open its own metaverse in 2023, which will offer a tour of the city’s top attractions, from Gwanghwamun Square to Namdaemun Market to Deoksugung Palace.

Deoksugung Palace in Seoul will be part of the “Seoul Metaverse” project, which is expected to open in 2023. Tuomas A. Lehtinen

In France, tourism players are still cautious about the metaverse. While the director general of the Val d’Isère tourist office announced the acquisition of land on Next Earth, a decentralized virtual world, on its own funds, the city of Cannes announced in early April on Twitter to be “the first city in France and Europe to invest in the metaverse”. In concrete terms, a partnership has been established with a Cannes company specializing in artificial intelligence to store certain emblematic Cannes sites in the form of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT).

“The sites valued will be the Palais des Festivals de Cannes, the Boulevard de la Croisette, Port Canto, Île Sainte-Marguerite, the underwater eco-museum, Malmaison, the Old Port, the Forville market, the Suquet , Pointe Croisette and Campus Georges-Méliès”, says the town hall. During the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, next June, an auction will be organized to acquire these first 10 NFTs. “Purchasers will be given a 3D reproduction of the object. The 11th will be offered to a Cannes resident as part of a draw”, completes the town hall.

A parallel tourist offer

Still nascent, the metaverse is a new playground for the tourism industry. So what can we expect in terms of products in this virtual world? “We can imagine extraordinary catalogs, in 4D, of the destination, in which it will be possible to walk around. As with augmented reality, we can also imagine being able to walk back in time and discover how the monuments were before”describes Sophie Lacour, general manager of Advanced Tourism.

“The metaverse can be a promotional tool for brands and destinations, a recreation of what they offer.” Sophie Lacour, General Manager of Advanced Tourism

“The added value of the metaverse is to offer things that you cannot offer on site, such as walking around ancient destinations, interacting with period characters”, adds Sophie Lacour. The metaverse could also be a way to encourage tourists to return to a destination they would not have had time to fully explore, and thus encourage the phenomenon of “repeaters”, those tourists who visit at least twice the same destination.

Tourist destinations invented in the metaverse?

The specialist goes even further, and wonders if it will not be possible, in the long term, to invent tourist destinations in the metaverse. After all, many artists have already created their own universe in the metaverse, such as MoyaLand, the virtual universe of artist Patrick Moya on Second Life, which has existed since 2007. This tourist virtual universe has, among other things, a tourist office, an airport, but also various museums. “With the metaverse, it’s tourism that will have to be redefined”enthuses Sophie Lacour, who nevertheless wants to be cautious.

5 to 10 years before seeing a successful offer

According to the consultant, neither the servers nor the people are, indeed, ready for a democratization of the metaverse. For the moment, only technophiles and “early adopters” seem to be interested in these new worlds, even if studies are encouraging. A Yougov study carried out on February 24 and 25, 2022 reports, for example, that nearly one in two young people (47%) between the ages of 18 and 24 would be curious to visit a tourist destination through a metaverse.

“It will take hardware, maybe goggles – gear that not everyone has – as well as powerful machines to make the experience enjoyable. For now, the metaverse isn’t for everyone. the world, for technological and sociological reasons related to this disruptive technology. It will be the case for another 5 to 10 years”believes Sophie Lacour.

For this reason, the consultant advises her clients in the tourism sector to be very careful. “The question is also to invest in the right metaverse, the one that will last. We look at what is happening, we may buy bits of land, but it is not worth making big investments for the moment”she explains.

The metaverse will not replace the real

Especially since there is a fear of various tourism stakeholders that the metaverse replaces reality. No chance, according to Sophie Lacour, who believes that people will always want to move. In addition, if we refer to the definition of tourism as set out by the World Tourism Organization, the latter designates “a social, cultural and economic phenomenon that involves the movement of people to countries or places outside their usual environment, occurring for personal reasons or for business and professional reasons.” Nothing to do, therefore, with visiting a virtual world sitting in your own sofa.

“There is a big difference between eating a skewer by the Baltic Sea and eating a hamburger in the metaverse.” Sophie Lacour, General Manager of Advanced Tourism

For Naima Aidi, “the tourist experience is still very much linked to hedonism, to pleasure, to the feeling of discovering new things, to wonder. The metaverse could arouse a desire to travel but it cannot replace an experience apart entire.”

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