Now that’s dedication to virtual travel

You know aside from the independent, I love to read the Daily Mail’s travel section. And these day with the move to fully digital, I get my near daily dose of reading as I get on my way to work on the train.

Today; this is what piqued me. Google treks (click here to read the article).

You know I use google maps a lot. A LOT. Cannot emphasize it more. Why? Because its there and we very frequently pick up driving destinations from it on our road trips. Besides, it has a street view which can be really useful to identify landmarks while driving in a foreign country.

Now, you can do the same with trekking. Thanks to Thai triathlete Panupong Luangsa-ard, there is now so many places off the beaten track as they say – in our case off the road, that are available now virtually. And as the community of trekkers who join Luangsa-ard to lug around this laborious looking equipment around, surely one day google will be able to map out an experience for us all.

Google trekking
Lifted from Google – now is this dedication of what?!

Just last week I posted this piece (click here to read) on digitization and specifically on virtual travel. Now this is really taking it one more level higher. I can envision now a convergence of VR technologies and content taking place in the not so distant future. One in which the travels and travails of the real adventurers feed a cocooned virtual audience.

You know there is this theory about disruptive technology (probably as real as it can be since it has occurred so many times), one in which a seeming innocuous innovation creates new markets and value propositions that disrupts an existing one. Many times to the point it kills the existing – remember film photography going the way of the dinos?

VR and the digitization of travel is one such potential for disruptive impact on real physical world travel. Why would we say that? For one, the merger of VR with content portends the potential for travel experiences to be sold as entertainment. And when this entertainment is in the hand of the masses, it becomes commoditized. What this potentially leads to is a dilution of the raison d’être for anyone seeking that real exotic travel journey experience. Not when anyone can do so by putting on your VR gear.

Yes there will always be some that remain unconverted – us included.

But you know as a whole (gaming) generation grows up with the imbued belief that VR is as normal as breathing, values will more likely than not shift.

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?

Virtual travel.jpg
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.