From ‘meta tourists’ to virtual hotels, Globetrender founder Jenny Southan shares her predictions about what the metaverse means for travel, and how early adopters can cash in.

“For years people have been debating whether virtual reality will replace the desire – and even need – for travel. Computer games, of course, provide escapism and video calls via Airbnb Online Experiences now allow us to take live cocktail-making classes, for example, with people all around the world but neither of these formats replace travel.

“The metaverse will complement real-world trips, and could be used in interesting ways such as giving people the chance to experience a place virtually before they book.

“I predict that savvy hotel brands for example will start building virtual versions of themselves in the metaverse for ‘meta tourists’ to check into. Their digital avatars could explore the accommodation and amenities via 3D tours for a firsthand experience that will provide a whole new level of transparency for holidaymakers.

“It also has potential to bring back the personalised travel agent-experience via immersive browsing, booking and payments, allowing customers to ask questions, make special requests and pay in a more convenient way – all from a safe and familiar environment. This ‘almost-human’ connection will also allow for better customer service during and after their trip.”

Do you have any examples as to how the industry is preparing for the rise of the ‘phygital’ world?

“I recently wrote about a ‘shoppable’ penthouse hotel suite that was recently unveiled at the Il Sereno in Lake Como, Italy, where everything in the room is available for sale online at a dedicated shop. It doesn’t take much to imagine this being translated to the metaverse, where you are ‘walking around’ a virtual hotel or shop and buying pieces that either only exist in the metaverse (people will have their own virtual homes and offices to furnish) or that they have delivered to their real-life abode.

“Middle Eastern airline Emirates is another example of a company embracing phygital. Last autumn it unveiled a VR app for the Oculus headset giving curious travellers the chance to explore the airline’s first class suites, lounge and showers. In the future, people will also be able to book tickets from inside the VR cabin.”

Who stands to benefit most from travel and the metaverse?

“Number one – Mark Zuckerberg. He’s betting so big on this that he is literally making, shaping and defining our future. Secondly, innovative brands and companies that are quick to create products and virtual experiences that are available to sell because the metaverse is ripe for money-making opportunities.

“Integrating crypto payments will be another huge step as until now, there hasn’t been very much to spend bitcoin, for example, on – it’s mainly being traded. Finally, advertisers. There will be so much scope to promote real-world products, trips, airlines and hotels in the virtual space – with the ability to have ‘click to book’ built in.”

Does the metaverse offer an opportunity for travel businesses to gain an edge over competitors?

“Definitely – particularly when it comes to attracting Gen Z, which is largely still ignored by travel companies in favour of Millennials and Boomers. These young people are often highly entrepreneurial, will soon have a lot of disposable income, and are well-versed in engaging and interacting in virtual environments.

“It won’t be long until every company needs to have a metaverse equivalent of themselves. I expect it won’t be long until we see virtual Soho House clubs where members can congregate for VIP networking events, Hilton will have virtual hotels for hook-ups and hang-outs, and Black Tomato will take you on virtual adventures with real-life explorers. There is no limit to what’s possible.

“Of course, there will be companies such as Monocle magazine, which has proudly never used social media and appears to be flourishing, but on the whole there is a risk of being left behind.”

Read the full interview on Matter of Form