Virtual travel — just a hype or here to stay?

The tourism industry should explore the new normal and discover changes that are needed to be incorporated for its future, says senior lecturer

By LYDIA NATHAN

VIRTUAL travel could be the answer to all the woes that are currently being faced by players in the tourism industry which is mired with uncertainty and ambiguity.

Taylor’s University senior lecturer Dr Rokhshad Tavakoli (picture) said since tourism is one of the largest and fastest-growing industries, more efforts should be undertaken to push it back to its core capacities.

“The industry should not wait to see how the sector will play out and expect to return to some resemblance of the ‘old normal’.

“Instead, Malaysia’s tourism industry should take advantage of the situation and be proactive to explore the new normal and discover the changes we need to incorporate for the future of the industry,” she told The Malaysian Reserve in a recent interview via email.

Tavakoli said by doing so, a foundation for tourism to recover could be built in the middle of a slow rebound for the country.

She said virtual travel is one of the answers that could make travel possible again for all, while targeting specific markets including senior citizens, the physically challenged and those who cannot afford it.

Using VR to ‘Travel’

“One of the examples of digitalisation in tourism is the use of virtual reality (VR), which creates a simulated environment. It is not meant to replace travelling, but to enhance the travelling experience.

“For instance, VR provides immersive interactive experiences for users in virtual circumstances all the while making it accessible to people with certain political mobility barriers,” Tavakoli said.

She added that while virtual tourism has been around for almost a decade, the concept is still relatively new in Malaysia.

“It has remained a niche business with a high price barrier due to the cost of the hardware necessary, like powerful computers, quality sensors and VR helmets.

“But, we may see a gradual increase in this form of business soon, especially now that the pandemic has forced many businesses to pivot their model plan to stay relevant in the industry,” she said.

Explore Malaysia Virtually is one such platform that has jumped on this bandwagon, offering tours of well-known and famous destinations across the country.

According to its website, visitors can participate in real-time tours with actual tour guides or watch recorded clips, while the “tours” are based mainly in Melaka and Kuala Lumpur.

Localokal is another platform which offers interactive virtual tours, featuring some of the country’s most beautiful destinations.

According to the site, the platform will be adding more tours especially in states and places that have not been covered yet over the year.

Innovation Key to Evolve

Tavakoli said the predicament faced by the industry needs to be addressed with proactive measures by proposing changes because post-Covid tourists will not be the same as pre-Covid tourists.

She said the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, in one of its guidelines to help the global tourism sector reopen smoothly and safely, has emphasised on innovation and technology in building the industry’s resilience.

The new direction will allow agile players to work together to improve their offering and build new capabilities.

“Innovation to anticipate these evolving needs is essential and identifying solutions that prioritise safety and flexibility now during travel downtime will go a long way to rebuilding confidence,” she said.

Tavakoli said the current trend in the industry is bound to continue and grow under the ever-changing circumstances.

Security, Hygiene Come First

“Standards for protocols will only get tighter, while security and hygiene remain at the top of the list for most countries.

“Whether it is airlines, shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, or bars, consumers will now demand that companies make clear what their hygiene and safety policies are and what measures they are taking to keep customers safe,” she said.

She added that as the situation evolves, with businesses implementing various standard operating procedures (SOPs) to adhere to established guidelines, governments, organisations, health experts and other industry peers are expected to work together to develop a more enhanced SOP policy that can be used across the board.

Additionally, touchless tourism is expected to grow with impact as infections will remain a major concern in any matter hereinafter.

“The use of technology will allow a hands-free environment, where tourists can limit the amount of time they make contact with a public surface.

“This new trend will see the rise in the use of technologies such as e-wallets, touchless document scannings, motion sensors, and other developing software. This is something businesses must definitely consider implementing,” Tavakoli said.