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Rise in virtual tourism due to COVID-19 may end cheap travel, says tourism expert

Oculus is one of most popular VR brands on the market today. Photo: Supplied.

By TRAVIS RADFORD

Virtual travel experiences may enjoy sustained success even after COVID-19 is controlled, if the price of physical travel rises as a tourism expert has predicted

“With borders closed, with quarantines imposed in many countries, with great limitations in the ability of people to travel, how are you going to experience the rest of the world?” said tourism expert Dr David Beirman.

“One way … would be virtual tourism,” he said.

Dr Beirman expects the popularity of virtual experiences, like Mr Urmenyhazi’s nature walks, will continue to grow even after Australia’s global travel moratorium is lifted.

“You’re not going to even be able to charge the same kind of money as you would if people go on a tour where they actually have to fly to somewhere [and] stay in somewhere,” he said.

“[Virtual tourism] will become an option for people who want the ambience and the experience without necessarily the drain on the pocket.”

A 2019 report by Tourism Recearch Australia (TRA) that was released before the pandemic named virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) as potential threats to the tourism industry.

The report singled out VR in-particular and said that if it could replace in-person experiences, it could lead to physical travel being reserved for wealthy people and VR being left for everyone else.

Dr Beirman believes that TRA’s prediction will come true, but not because of the cheaper cost of virtual travel or increasingly realistic experiences like those offered by VR.

“Coronavirus has been the biggest paradigm shifting event that tourism’s ever experienced,” he said.

“For the last 70 years … the travel industry worked on high volume, low yield. So, what you had is lots of people paying very little money … [and] travel was getting cheaper.”

COVID-19 put a stop to this trend, with the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) reporting a US$4.5 trillion loss to the global travel and tourism sector in 2020 alone.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 decimated international overseas travel. Photo: Supplied.

“For tourism businesses to be viable into the future, the can’t really afford the luxury, from their point of view, of doing it on the cheap,” said Dr Beirman.

“We’ll have a short period when travel starts coming back, where there’ll be some cheap fared around, but I think it’s going to be a very short period.

“After COVID, it’s [physical travel] going to probably go back to being a very, fairly elitist activity.”

The ‘secret’ golden cliffs from Mr Urmenyhazi’s virtual tours. His virtual tour kit consists of a gimbal, an iPhone and a ‘big selfie stick.’ Photo: Supplied.

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