“Metaverse is not about substituting tourism but how to make tourism richer, more meaningful, immersive and sensory rich”

“Metaverse is not about substituting tourism but how to make tourism richer, more meaningful, immersive and sensory rich”

Dra. Marianna Sigala is professor at the University of Piraeus, Greece. Her interests include services and experience management, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in tourism and hospitality, as well as wine tourism. She is a widely published and multi-awarded authority, as well as holds a long record of leadership and participation in international research projects. In 2016, she has been awarded the prestigious EuroCHRIE Presidents’ Award for her lifetime contributions and achievements to tourism and hospitality education. Sigala will take part in CETT Smart Tourism Congress Barcelona with the keynote Metaverse and Smart Tourism: a fad or a new industry reality?

Metaverse and smart tourism

Are the metaverse and smart tourism just a fad, or are they already a consolidated reality?

Metaverse in (smart) tourism is not a science fiction but the new industry reality. The metaverse is driven by tourism demand and pushed by continuously increasing investments by the tourism industry. Virtual immersive hospitality experiences (e.g. events, meetings, conferences) are the second most sought-after experiences in the Metaverse (McKinsey & Company, 2022). Various industry players (hospitality and real estate organisations, start-ups) continuously increase their investments on metaverse gaining tangible real-life benefits. CitizenM, Wendy’s, McDonalds, concert organisers, Marriott and many other big players have already build a metaland representing and building their brand in the metaverse and making real money by ‘selling’ phygical blurred tourism experiences. Tokyo, one of the award winning smart cities, have announced the construction of a smart city on the metaland empowering citizens and tourists to co-create value in various ways. Paris, the Olympic City in few years, is alwayd building a metaverse of the games for testing its city infrastructure before the games (by using digital twins) and for developing blurred experiences enabling audience at the venue and beyond the venue to co-createvalue in unimaginable ways.

How will the future of tourism be with the metaverse and smart tourism?

Tourism as a social practice and economic activity is being transformed and redefined by the metaverse. The metaverse is not different world but one that run on real time and synchronously with the real world. Both the real and metaverse world will co-exist empowering all tourism stakeholders to redefine tourism experiences, the way we engage with them and co-create them, the way we exchange and make money by trading them. The metaverse is not about replacing in-person tourism experiences, but about making what we do online and/or offline better and more meaningful. The capabilities of the metaverse can help people see what they cannot currently see, know what they did not know before, and feel what they could not feel or did not know to feel the day before. For example, the metaverse can enhance our feeling of being close to one another, regardless of physical distance, for example teleport someone to our tourist reort where he/she could not travel with us.

What are the benefits of the metaverse and smart tourism?

The affordabilities of the metaverse can enable smart tourism to become more environmentally sustainable (reduction of emissions, digital twins for managing crowds and building/maintaining infrastructure, socially inclusive (allow access to tourism to people with disabilities) and economic empowerment (enabling equal participation to the tourism economy by all stakeholders irrespective of gender, location, age, etc). In brief, we can see and create metaverse gains in all dimensions of tourism sustainability

And what are the drawbacks of the metaverse and smart tourism?

There are many risks and concerns that need to be addressed and we do not even know what exactly these issues are and how to address them. For example, issues about privacy (e.g. collection of enriched personal data such as facial expressions), copy right issues of digital twins and replicating brand personalities, celebrities, legal responsibility of avatars having agency (e.g. sexual harassment on metaverse).

Will we stop travelling like we are doing now? Won't you need to take a plane to visit New York?

No. The metaverse is not about substituting tourism but how to make tourism richer, more meaningful, immersive and sensory rich.

What role will cryptocurrencies play in the metaverse and smart tourism?

Economic empowerment in the metaverse is enabled through the creation and trade of NFTs for which cryptocurrencies are the core.

Exemples of smart tourism and metaverse

Can we highlight any interesting examples of metaverse and smart tourism?

McDonalds is building a metaverse brandland whereby teenagers meet and hangout, order food/drinks for home consumption and virtual socialisations. The Wendyverse in Meta’s Horizon Worlds is an out-of-the-world experience beyond the taste enabling its fans to interact with the company, its food and even each other: within the Buck BiscuitDome, fans shoot hoops with a virtual Baconator®, get onto the court and cut off the net after hitting the winning shot. Disney’s Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel heavily uses live-action-role-play, narratives and story-telling for designing compelling immersive experiences. CitizenM has a metaverse hotel enabling guests to experience, test and use a metaverse hotel room before, and after their experience. Hotel stays at metaverse are converted into NFTs which are sold or given as digital souvenirs to hotel guests.

What professional roles will tourism need if the metaverse is consolidated?

Metaverse tourism is a totally new world affecting all the domains of the economy and society and so, requiring expertise and skills various disciplines and fields including: Law, Economics, Management, Marketing, HR management of human and digital agents, Sociology, (Cyber) psychology and all other many disciplines.