When reflecting on the role that the metaverse will play in tourism destinations, it turns out that many of them already form part of different virtual worlds or a metaverse without intending to do so, on being chosen as scenarios for immersive video games where the users interact within the urban or natural environments of those destinations.

Video games have been recreating immersive urban environments based on cities that are important tourism destinations, such as New York, Paris and Barcelona.

We have seen how places and monuments that are recognised worldwide have been recreated more accurately in video games, not only to undergo interactive experiences set in the present, but also to experience the feeling of living in other times from the past through historical recreations, enabling users to travel in time.  

In terms of the metaverse, we could say that digital natives regularly travel and play in cyberspaces that recreate real worlds, past, present, or future. Although previous generations have also experienced this, it is Generation Z or these digital natives who are the new tourists of this century that naturally enter virtual spaces to discover real places, differentiating between the two worlds with no problem whatsoever.

All these personal interactions in a virtual environment have been provided by social media, which have become the new way of establishing relations and communicating, and which have also involved tourism destinations. Public bodies use them for managing and promoting their tourism offer. Despite messaging and video applications through social media being relatively recent, at present, around 60% of the world’s population are active on them, and it is expected that 25% of users will spend an hour a day in the metaverse by 2026.

Technological advances in virtual recreation are facilitating its applicability as a tool for promoting tourism destinations, especially within the realism of urban spaces. This recreation is being included as another communication tool, with the interaction between users, including the actual manager of the tourism destination, being its main attraction and novel aspect. This instrument, the metaverse, in line with the current intense process of the digital transformation of society, has become a logical development in providing the tourist with information and proximity to allow them to get to know the destination. This is a natural evolving process, as were (at the time and during their period) the records of the first Romantic travellers, photography, cinema, television, the Internet or literature, feeding our imagination.

We should understand that the need for information is inherent in the human condition, because it provides certainty and security in view of the unknown, especially in the case of undertaking a journey. The information we provide to the tourist endows them with confidence and desire, whether they are gathering it as a tourist or to plan and organise their trip. The interaction they may carry out with the tourism destination in the metaverse will be a further element of stimulation and confidence leading them towards a satisfactory experience, on having knowledge prior to their visit.

The inclusion of tourism destinations in the metaverse has already commenced. In many cases, it already started with Augmented Reality, providing the tourist with information online, as well as with the development of smart cities or the inclusion of Virtual Reality, to recreate artistic historical heritage as an immersive experience. These are technological applications that are increasingly common in destinations that visitors enjoy in in the difference spaces and with the different equipment of their tourism offer. The integration of all these technological developments into the same cyberspace is increasingly close, facilitating their future inclusion in the metaverse.

The pandemic unquestionably implied a significant advance in the applicability and use of virtual meeting spaces, where some perfected their use and others entered them for the first time. We should not consider these social interactions as replacing reality, or that the sensorial experience of travelling can be replaced by the metaverse: that should not be the focus.

The Destination Tourism Sustainability Strategy of the office of the Secretary of State for Tourism embodies a firm proposal for digitalisation in the management of the tourism products, resources, and infrastructures of destinations. The actions foreseen within the scope of the digital transition in tourism destinations include all those technological projects that facilitate a continual improvement of the processes included in the tourism value chain. This Strategy emphasises the developments of immersive reality that allow tourism experiences at the destination to be advanced based on virtual and mixed reality. To have an idea of the proposal for the digital transformation of tourism destinations, a minimum investment will be made of 190 million euros within the framework of the NextGenerationEU funds of the European Union until 2026.

Juan Antonio López, partner from Auren Consultants Spain.

Auren Tourism Commission