How AR & VR are Redefining Tourism in a Post-COVID World
Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) is part of our daily lives already: we can bet that you’ve used a Snapchat or Instagram filter to post a selfie on your story, or used a VR headset to engage in thrilling virtual experiences. While you may think of the reach of AR and VR as limited to games and entertainment, this is far from the case. Augmented and virtual reality are increasingly being used for medical, commercial, and educational purposes, and, recently, the pandemic has shed light on the potential for virtual yet immersive tourism in the absence of real travel. A growing trend in the travel and hospitality industries is now to make AR/VR an integral part of the tourism scene. Yet, as countries begin to lift their travel restrictions, will the utility of virtual and augmented tourism endure?
© National Geographic
The short answer is, absolutely. The virtual tourism scene in is rapidly innovating. Already, the Oculus Quest 2 is making big waves as an advanced, impactful, and multiuse VR headset that can be used to travel the world. The Oculus store currently offers more than 80 travel-related experiences. For example, by downloading the National Geographic VR app, users can kayak in Antarctica or trek through the Inca temples of Machu Picchu with all senses immersed, creating a cinematic experience. The Zion Narrows Experience also offers a navigable VR experience inside the Zion National Park in Utah. More experiences offered for the Oculus Quest or Oculus Go include ecosphere, Gala360, VR Gorilla, and Alcove as well as travel experiences to destinations such as Venice, Georgia, Tallinn, and the Great Barrier Reef. On the AR side, with tourists coming back to cities around the world, MARS storytelling makes historical sites and visitor centers come alive with personalized AR experiences. Want to learn all about a specific city? Zaubar enables tours powered by AR that immerse you in 3D learning experiences about a city’s past and present. Asbury Park in New Jersey also offers its own unique and free AR tour that reconstructs key historic landmarks in AR on the boardwalk. Snapchat’s Landmarker provides for unique 3D experiences at selected locations around the world, tightly tracked to architecture.
Additionally, many museums are taking advantage of AR/VR technology. Want to peruse through the Natural History Museum’s impressive collection of animal skeletons? Now you can enter the Bone Hall from your couch as you experience the museum through your smartphone with the Skin & Bones app. Similar experiences exist for the American Museum of Natural History and many more exhibitions with the help of AR technologies such as Boulevard and Museopic.
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If you feel comfortable and are able to travel in person, AR can also be applied to geolocation and navigational purposes when you’re at your destination. Google Lens and Google Translate both allow you to scan and translate street signs, maps, guides, and menus in real-time and provide an augmented reality overlay of the translation in tens of languages. Google Maps also uses AR to make navigation more convenient by placing big virtual signs on top of real-world roads.
Also, on your way to your next destination, Skylights offers VR experiences to entertain airline passengers with their unique cinema experiences.
AR/VR technologies now offer new ways and alternatives for travel and to immerse yourself in new experiences. You can even create your own customizable AR travel experiences by using echoAR. ViajAR used echoAR allow its users to learn more about their favorite city, while AR-Tourist, which is also powered by echoAR, allows its user to virtually travel the world. Learn how to set up landmarks in AR and virtually explore exotic locations, by following this open source tutorial.
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Skeptics of immersive tourism point out that virtual travel is not the same experience. While it may be true that virtual travel from the comfort of your couch still cannot fully replicate real in-person travel, immersive experiences are becoming more and more realistic experiences and also serve as valuable tools for tourists contemplating where to go before booking an in person trip in real life as well as tourists looking to cut down on excess travel expenditures. Companies are investing big money in making sure AR/VR evolve and that AR/VR experiences become an integral part of our tech-driven future. As Mark Zuckerberg said about the potential applications of AR/VR, “We should be teleporting, not transporting ourselves.”
Check out the inspiration page on the echoAR platform for more great examples of AR apps that developers are building for navigation and travel by using echoAR.
echoAR (http://www.echoAR.xyz; Techstars ’19) is a cloud platform for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) that provides tools and server-side infrastructure to help developers & companies quickly build and deploy AR/VR apps and experiences.