Digitization and virtual travel

An interesting development that could in some way revolutionize travel – the use of digital travel documents. Doing away with passports altogether is a very likely prospect as technology advance to replicate and even surpass the security features that are now embedded in our paper documents. The advent of smartphone payment is one of the clearest indications that digitization is on a relentless march to replace more than just a tiny segment of traditional approaches to life as we know it.

Some day, we may just need a biometric chip embedded into each of us which is all that is needed to effect payment, identity validation etc. Afterall, the paper documents were created to validated/proof who we claim to be in the first place! And in the cloud which this biometric can be linked to will be stored all the information about you – financial (how much money you have, what properties you own), physical (appearance, blood type etc)… Scary thought but some form of this is surely coming!

However my thoughts are : with digitization, will this lead to VR travel over ‘real’ travel?

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Trying on the Occulus Rift with BA

I mean, will we abscond from the pleasures of physical travel and retreat to the cocoon of virtual experiences?

Since last year, Marriot had been ramping up its 4D VR teleporter. We are not talking about the abstract 4 dimensions. It’s about the 4 senses – sight, sound,smell and touch. Nah, not possible to virtually taste something yet…(but watch this space as there are serious develoments out there make it a ‘reality’).

And look at Samsung’s VR headset that integrates with its smartphones. Its not “coming near you soon”, its here.

At this time, the technology is in the employ of brick and mortar businesses augmenting their customer acquisition strategies. And some articles out there will claim that VR travel will never* replace “real” travel. You will recall from the Matrix movies that reality is what the brain’s receptory sensors tell it. From these moments of reality, experience and thereafter, memories are formed. So what is real?

If two persons described to you their joys of seeing the pyramids at Teotihuacan (which we REALLY want to go) and one of them did the VR experience, how would you tell who actually walked it? At some point in the technology development spectrum, the VR experience is going to feel so real that it’s surreal. And you may just build your memories of trips to the exotic based on the virtual experience alone.

*Never say never

The joy of physical travel is to taste the unknown, meet with circumstances unexpected and gain experiences and memories from them.

VR will intrinsically wrap you in moments at its most pleasant. Which marketing blok won’t make it so? The brainchild being that you will be potentially seduced by the siren calls to do the real physical trip.

The flip side is, that you heed the siren call and actually do the trip. And you find out that in real life it is not all that the VR experience promises it to be. The wind that blew gently against your hair as the sun shone on you, punctuated with the smell and sound of the sea lapping on the beach. You are enticed. Bait, hook and sinker.


In real life you might emerge from several hours of flying dreary eyed. You have trouble sleeping because of the timezone. You find yourself on the same beach with hundreds, perhaps thousands of other people. Children wailing, touts coming up to offer you something you don’t know what its about. Its cloudy and expected to stay that way for a few days, the same amount of time you had planned to be here…the food was not quite what you expected it to be. And the smell, well…hmm… Oh boy do we have those kinds of memories in our many journeys.

Remember “Rekall, the vacation memory company” in the movie Total Recall?

You might just be converted to being a permanent VR traveler.