The tourism industry has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with travel restrictions and safety concerns limiting traditional forms of tourism in recent years. As a result, the demand for virtual travel experiences has increased, offering a safe and accessible alternative for exploring the world – but so too has demand for in-person travel as things have opened up and rebounded and the pandemic has ebbed. I figured we might as well talk about the future of tourism and virtual travel, and think about where things are trending in terms of new upgrades and innovations.

First stop on our tour: We’re certain that immersive technology like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will play an outsized role in the future of tourism and virtual travel. These technologies enable users to experience destinations and cultures in a more immersive and interactive way. For example, VR can transport users to far-flung locations, allowing them to explore and interact with their surroundings in a highly realistic way. On the flip side, AR can overlay digital content onto the real world, providing context and information about historic sites, landmarks, and cultural artifacts. By leveraging these technologies, virtual travel experiences can offer a more engaging and authentic exploration of the globe around us.

However, make no mistake that as consumers become increasingly discerning in their travel preferences, personalization will become a crucial factor in the success of real-world and virtual travel experiences. By leveraging data and AI-driven technology, travel companies can create tailored travel experiences that cater to individual interests, budgets, and schedules. For instance, by recommending destinations based on past travel behavior or social media activity, providing personalized itineraries, or offering virtual concierge services. By offering personalized experiences, virtual travel especially can offer a level of customization that traditional tourism cannot match.

And then there’s the elephant in the room, in that as environmental consciousness continues to shape consumer preferences, the tourism industry will need to prioritize sustainability in travel experiences of all kinds. You’ll see providers increasingly partnering with eco-friendly destinations, promoting sustainable travel practices, and minimizing the carbon footprint of virtual travel experiences. What’s more, virtual travel experiences can be designed to promote cultural and environmental awareness, encouraging travelers to appreciate and protect the world’s natural and cultural heritage.

I’d be off-base if I didn’t mention as well that one of the core objectives of tourism is to facilitate connections and foster a sense of community among travelers. In the future of travel (real, virtual, or otherwise), this objective will be achieved through greater collaboration between travel companies, content creators, and travelers themselves. By facilitating online communities and social networks, virtual travel experiences can create great chances for travelers to connect, share experiences, and build relationships with like-minded individuals. What’s more, virtual travel experiences can leverage user-generated content, such as reviews and recommendations, to create a sense of authenticity and community.

And PS: Virtual travel experiences offer a unique opportunity to make travel more accessible and inclusive for a wide range of travelers. Imagine designing experiences that cater to diverse needs, such as audio or visual impairments, or providing options for language translation or closed captioning. Likewise, virtual travel experiences can offer a more affordable and accessible alternative to traditional tourism, enabling more people to explore the world from the comfort of their own homes.