Tourism was among the hardest hit industries during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a UN report, the sector will continue to feel the effects of the pandemic-induced slowdown for several quarters in 2021 and later. Tourist arrivals were down 87% in January 2021 as compared to the same period the previous year. International visitor arrival declined nearly 74% in 2020, resulting in revenue losses of over $1 trillion and job losses of more than 62 million. While the several lockdowns brought the sector to a standstill, the pandemic has provided governments, regulatory bodies, and business organizations an opportunity to rebuild the industry with sustainable policies and practices. It has also opened new opportunities and additional revenue sources for the tourism and allied industry sectors, such as telecom.
Rapid adoption of technologies, including 5G and augmented reality, have created new avenues for telecom companies to launch immersive virtual experiences. Telcos can provide virtual reality solutions, with which customers can experience tourist destinations with a click of a button, from the comfort of their homes or from anywhere in the world. They can partner with other industries to build large ecosystems with new business models and shared revenue streams.
Such an augmented solution for immersive tourism, is a mixed reality experience meant to be enhanced with advanced technology. The solution is not a replacement to conventional tourism. It leverages mixed reality, the most promising of all the simulated reality technologies, built by using digital objects in the real world with the capability to enable interactions between the reality and virtuality. It is in the middle of the spectrum comprising virtual reality at one end and augmented reality at the other. After several false starts over the years, these technologies have finally become commercially viable. The immersive solution referred to above combines various digital experiences that use a combination of real and virtual objects to various degrees.
The idea is to bring in dimensions of experiences to users that are not viable in the physical world. We conceptualize the immersive tourism experience to offer:
- Impossible infotainment: Users can experience tourist attractions from various vantage points, in time-travel modes across seasons, and get annotations to understand the historicity or the specialty of any given attraction or a place.
- Travel the untravelled: Telecom companies can now bring the most remote terrains, such as the seven summits, Amazon rainforests, and unreachable peaks of the Alps, to their customers. These locations are generally inaccessible to wider audiences and restricted only to risk-takers.
- Personalized virtual spaces: Taking photos and videos of places you visited are relics of a time gone by. How about you transpose and clone a real tourist place into your personalized virtual space and re-live the memories as you want and share them with your friends and family? Telcos can now enable these experiences for their users with the immersive tourism solution.
- Virtual shopping experience: Shopping is an integral part of tourism, and it is a key lever in the virtual solution as well. The model augments the immersive tourism ecosystem with virtual ecommerce, featuring stores that uphold the heritage and specialties of the tourist attractions.
Telcos can partner with local and international tourist destinations and governing bodies to offer immersive tourism as a service to their individual as well as business customers. This also provides them with the opportunity to lead these partnerships. Moreover, this solution of immersive tourism can be transposed into other formats, such as experiencing a musical concert from a privileged vantage point and real-time immersive touring of a production plant for a floor visit. New opportunities like immersive tourism also give telecom companies a competitive edge in increasingly crowded markets.