Can the luxury travel experience possibly get any better? With the metaverse, it can, and it will. When most people think of the metaverse, they probably imagine a group of teenagers playing video games while immersed in a virtual 3D world. But what if the metaverse could also be used to change how we travel? As it turns out, several brands like DFS and Marriott Bonvoy are already beginning to embrace the metaverse exploring new forms of marketing and new ways to offer better experiences, and travelers are beginning to reap the benefits. In this post, we'll explore how the metaverse is helping to create more immersive luxury travel experiences, and how these experiences will likely evolve in the not-so-distant future.
What is the metaverse?
Simply put, the metaverse is an umbrella term that describes any enduring virtual reality (VR) world you can navigate freely with other people to play, work, interact and do pretty much anything you want. The term was first used by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash, and was popularized more recently by Mark Zukerberg's announcement in 2021 that Facebook would rebrand as Meta to become a metaverse platform. Other big tech companies like Microsoft, Nvidia, and Google quickly followed suit and now the metaverse is "a thing."
By Facebook's definition, a metaverse is an ecosystem made of the integration of different virtual environments which can be accessed simultaneously by numerous users donning VR headsets. This allows a level of remote collaboration that will likely change the way we work and the way we interact online, similar to how user-generated content and social media changed the internet and pushed its evolution to web 2.0.
Current metaverse platforms like Roblox and Decentraland are also self-contained virtual economies where you can work to earn cryptocurrencies like Ethereum. You can then exchange these cryptos for national currencies like USD using one of the many popular crypto exchanges available worldwide like Bitcoin Evolution or use them to pay for private jet charters or other luxury travel services.
The metaverse is clearly shaping up to be the next step in the evolution of both social media and cloud collaboration tools. It'll be the place where we'll meet with friends, where we'll share stories, and create new ones. It'll also be a place where we'll come closer than ever before to our favorite celebrities, influencers, and brands, including those in the luxury travel industry.
Luxury travel brands already immersed in the metaverse
This post isn't just about what the metaverse will bring to the luxury traveler in the future; it's also about how it's impacting travel right now. Luxury brands have been experimenting with the metaverse for some time now, ever since the online game Second Life came out back in 2003. Brands like Jean Paul Gaultier, BMW and Mercedes have called Second Life their virtual home.
In terms of luxury travel, the Louis Vuitton-owned luxury travel retailer, DFS, recently jumped on the bandwagon by launching its Lunar New Year campaign in the metaverse, teaming up with famous influencers in the space. Marriott Bonvoy did its part back in December when it launched a collection of travel-inspired non-fungible tokens or NFTs. The renowned travel program that features 30 of the best hotel brands in the world debuted in the metaverse with three pieces of virtual art that were unveiled in Art Basel Miami Beach 2021, one of the world's premier contemporary art shows. The three NFTs along with 200,000 Marriott Bonvoy points were awarded to three lucky winners and made headlines.
These two luxury travel brands are among the first to bet on the metaverse as the future of customer engagement in the travel industry. While they used the space mostly as a new form of digital marketing, they've made it clear that this is only the beginning. One thing is for sure, with big brands these already adopting the metaverse, more are sure to follow. In the following section, I'll discuss how these and other travel brands are likely to leverage the metaverse to improve our travel experience.
6 ways the metaverse will improve luxury travel
#1 - It will provide an authentic and immersive cultural experience that will help us choose our destinations more wisely
The most obvious benefit the metaverse offers for travel is the possibility of experiencing any destination in the world without actually leaving your couch. Immersive VR experiences are the closest we will have to the real thing and that opens the possibility of really exploring a destination to our heart's desire and to decide what we really want to do once we get there.
There'll be no need to look at lists of nearby restaurants or attractions and what they offer because you'll be able to simply walk around and see them for yourself. User reviews and ratings will probably be integrated into the metaverse so by just walking around and looking at the different shops, cafes, and restaurants you find along the way, you'll be able to check reviews of the ones that really catch your eye.
It's also possible that luxury brands will open virtual versions of their physical stores in the metaverse and you'll be able to see in advance the products they offer, try them on your avatar to get a feel of how the real thing will look and even purchase it and have the physical version shipped to you in advance.
#2 - It will be the next evolution of luxury transportation and accommodation research
How many times have you thought about flying First Class but held back simply because you were not sure if the experience was worth the price? That will be a thing of the past thanks to the metaverse. Airlines will have realistic-looking virtual 3D models of each cabin where you'll be able to move around and see for yourself what it would be like to travel like a VIP in this or that airline.
When it comes to accommodations, the metaverse becomes even more powerful. You'll be able to take a VR tour of each hotel and see the rooms first-hand. No more disappointing views from the balcony or smaller than expected beds. Luxury hotels will make sure that everything in the metaverse looks and feels just like the real thing so you'll always know exactly what you're paying for when you make a reservation.
#3 - Enhanced immersive booking experiences
Apart from experiencing First Class on your favorite airline and actually looking at the rooms and hotel grounds before you choose where to travel and how you'll get there, the booking experience itself will also change for the better. Several metaverses today are decentralized autonomous organizations powered by blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. Depending on which platform or platforms luxury travel brands adopt to jump into the metaverse, paying for luxury travel in cryptos like Bitcoin or Ethereum may become a real possibility.
Furthermore, the features and qualities of NFTs make them the ideal digital assets to represent things like airline tickets and hotel bookings. Since NFTs are crypto assets you can store in a crypto wallet, you'll have everything you need to travel (your money, your airline tickets, and your hotel reservations) in a single place.
An example of one hotel already taking advantage of this technology is Ca’ di Dio, the only 5-star hotel that opened in 2021. The hotel held an NFT auction that sold for 1 Ether (the native cryptocurrency of the Ethereum blockchain), worth around $3.280 at the time. The winner of the auction got the entire hotel for themselves for the first opening night. Ca’ di Dio went down in history as the first hotel ever to offer NFT bookings and it was surely not the last. Today, there are entire hotel booking platforms that turn each individual stay at each individual hotel room into an NFT you can buy for your own use or even sell it later on.
#4 - Enhanced concierge services for luxury travelers
Luxury travel is all about great service and no service makes a trip memorable like having your own concierge. A concierge is someone who helps you find and book unique experiences, trendy restaurants, flight tickets, the best boutique stores around, and more.
This type of service is usually delivered via phone or chat, but in the metaverse, you'll be able to meet your concierge and see them as an avatar just like you. This enhanced interaction will open up new possibilities and different ways in which a concierge can help you and make your trip unforgettable.
#5 - Unique brand experiences
Virtual brand experiences curated for a specific target audience are effective ways to turn customers into fans and luxury brands know it. It's also a great way for companies to build awareness for their brand among the younger population. In the case of luxury brands, this means offering unique brand experiences in the metaverse that reflect their core values and add value to the luxury travel experience. For example, you may want to take a virtual tour of the Chanel fashion show or attend an exclusive Balmain fashion event. This and more will be possible in the metaverse.
#6 - Exclusive beta releases to test new concepts in luxury travel
The metaverse offers brands large and small a platform where they can test out new concepts and ideas that can go from developing new and exciting projects to launching new products or services. Something as simple as redecorating a hotel room can become a new opportunity for brands to connect with their audience while obtaining valuable feedback at the same time.
This means that metaverse users who travel frequently and are loyal to a certain brand could get exclusive early access to virtual versions of new concepts in travel. By participating and offering insightful feedback, they could even get free passes for the real service or get early access to the real product once it's actually rolled out in the real world. This type of preferential VIP treatment is exactly what luxury travel is all about.
The bottom line
As the metaverse evolves, so will the way luxury travelers experience the world. Avatar-based travel agents will be able to provide customized, real-time recommendations for top destinations and experiences. From personalized, avatar-based concierge services, beta releases for new luxury destinations, and more immersive virtual brand experiences, it will be a whole new ballgame when it comes to what traveling means for those who can afford it. And in a virtual world where your every desire can be catered to, there's no telling what new and exciting possibilities may lie ahead for luxury travel.
About the Author
Jordan Bishop is a personal finance expert and travel hacker who holds a degree in finance and entrepreneurship from Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada. He is the founder of Yore Oyster and How I Travel, two sites to help you optimize your finances and he recently published his first book, Unperfect, an exploration of problem solving.