VR tourism has long been seen as little more than a gimmick – a fun way to showcase the capabilities of VR headsets but not a serious alternative to travel. But desperate times call for desperate measures.
Could 2021 be the year when VR tourism comes into its own?
The end of international travel?
The COVID-19 outbreak has caused unprecedented damage to the travel industry. Last month, the International Air Transport Association declared that international air traffic had ‘all but vanished’, with passenger numbers at less than 10% of their normal level.
Even when travel restrictions are lifted, it is unclear if there will be much of a travel industry left. An estimated 41 million travel industry jobs are at risk, and many airlines and hotel chains are on the brink of collapse.
Will holidaymakers embrace VR tourism?
VR tourism has always been a bit of a hard sell. Seeing the sites of a foreign country through a headset might be fun, but it’s hard to escape the fact that you’re still sitting in your living room.
However, if the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that we are an adaptable species. Just as we’ve got used to working from home and socialising over Zoom, could we embrace VR tourism as part of ‘the new normal’?
Ralph Hollister, a tourism analyst and author of a report on VR tourism, certainly thinks so. He believes that the pandemic will provide a shot of adrenaline for VR tourism:
“The impact of Covid-19 may have allowed VR to somewhat shake off its image of being a gimmick in tourism. The further this pandemic goes on for, the higher the chance that VR may become a valid form of alternative travel as consumers get more used to this technology.”
A short-term solution
Several countries, including Germany and Ireland, have been quick to embrace the concept of VR tourism.
However, the focus is very much on promoting their countries as real-world travel destinations. This seems like the most likely future for VR tourism – a way for travellers to road test a destination before going there for real.
VR tourism may provide a short-term fix in extraordinary times, but it is unlikely to save our wanderlust when things return to normal.
The rise of the VR treadmill
A typical VR experience is with the aid of joysticks or controllers similar in design to the ones you’d find with a games console.
Now though, thanks to VR treadmills, that experience has become more like actually being there rather than feeling part of a computer game.
What are VR treadmills?
VR treadmills are the latest truly immersive experience that uses a platform that allows the user to move in multiple directions, typically eight, with forward, backward, left, right and the diagonals.
This movement is then sent by in-built sensors to a computer that generates that movement within the virtual world, allowing for a much more realistic experience.
So where are these VR Treadmills?
This VR treadmill allows the user to explore a virtual 3D world whilst walking or running in any direction. This is thanks to its static surface which is used in conjunction with specifically designed shoes whose low friction capabilities allow the user to glide across the surface of the platform.
It can take a few minutes to get used to moving in this environment without the worry of falling or slipping, however, the system comes with a plastic barrier that keeps the user’s upper body in a static position whilst allowing the orientation of the body to change, making it virtually impossible for the user to fall out of the device.
This treadmill is an omnidirectional VR device that allows the user to walk, run, jump, crouch and even sit down, thanks to its fully integrated optical sensor system, which enables comprehensive freedom of movement.
With this treadmill, you can be walking in one direction whilst looking in another and shooting in a third direction.
This is a monodirectional VR treadmill that allows gamers to walk forwards or backwards, whilst the rounded platform turns through 360 degrees, and in conjunction with a treadmill belt that is sensor controlled to allow the user to go in any direction within the virtual world.