Tourism banking on digital realm
New technology offers hope for ailing industry
The Covid outbreak has been a catalyst for disrupting the tourism and digital landscapes, hastened when social media giant Meta (formerly Facebook) announced a rebranding towards the metaverse last year.
The metaverse frenzy created a great amount of global hype, but it is still too early to predict how this trend will play out once people become more aware of it.
In addition to the gaming industry, the tourism supply side and destinations such as Seoul and Barbados have already jumped on the metaverse bandwagon by embracing technology to serve this new digital trend.
Tariq Al Mutawa, country manager for Thailand at Emirates, said the airline promoted technology to improve the customer experience before the metaverse trend emerged.
Emirates utilised virtual technology to offer a virtual reality (VR) experience on board for passengers. They can experience different points of view from the pilot's seat or see how their seats look before deciding to book.
He said the metaverse will help airlines, which already have strong marketing schemes, to penetrate different segments by using this tool as a new platform to create brand loyalty as well as grow passenger demand.
"The metaverse will be an evolution of the market, but it won't be able to replace the travel experience, at least in my lifetime," Mr Al Mutawa said.
"The arrival of the metaverse, which still has a long way to go, could be good or bad for tourism," said Garth Simmons, Accor's chief executive for Southeast Asia, Japan and South Korea.
"It surely represents an evolvement of our environment and is becoming a supplementary part of life."
For the hospitality business, people always want to have interactions with humans and real experiences that cannot be replaced virtually, he said.
However, to support customers that prefer digital, the Paris-based hotel chain has a unit working on digital innovations including the metaverse, automation and other tech trends to ensure seamless services and experiences, said Mr Simmons.
He said Accor will experiment with new gaming rooms for hotels in Singapore to tap into the potential market for gaming and the metaverse.
Mr Nithee at a tourism forum in Dubai announcing the country's readiness on use technology in the industry.
DIGITAL MARKETING TOOLS
While Thailand will take a while to return to the level of roughly 40 million arrivals logged in 2019, luring the global wealth segment including cryptocurrency holders can be a key to recovery, said Nithee Seeprae, deputy governor for digital R&D at Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
Digital technology plays a crucial role in direct communications with target markets such as Generation Z who usually influence other age groups to travel, he said.
Mr Nithee said apart from traditional websites and applications, the metaverse is a huge opportunity to generate more transactions, whether bookings for trips or buying non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that feature in virtual tourism.
He said handicrafts by local communities, photographic collections or even the first edition of the TAT's tourism magazine Osotho can be verified digital collectibles via NFT platforms.
The agency is in discussion with other digital firms such as Coral, Kasikorn Business-Technology Group's NFT marketplace platform, Zipmex and EAST NFT about seeking new opportunities and conducting campaigns in the future.
In addition, tourism can be promoted by adopting gamification, introducing tourism-related missions with special travel privileges to attract more tourists, said Mr Nithee.
He said Thailand Holideals campaign is the first pilot model to create a digital vibe in the local market, allowing tourists to use digital tokens to purchase products and services on its platform.
More metaverse tourism developments will be launched by the third quarter, said Mr Nithee.
He said the TAT's platform under the Amazing Thailand metaverse might be introduced as well. However, the plan requires fundraising or joint ventures with the private sector.
The agency is researching the feasibility, profitability and potential products to be offered in creating a new digital company under TAT to specifically support the Web 3.0 era.
Mr Kitti, left, and Miss Tourism World from Ayutthaya tested 360-degree panoramic cameras and VR box glasses as part of a scheme to produce new tourism content.
This scheme needs the TAT board's approval before it can begin later this year, said Mr Nithee.
Moreover, the TAT plans to provide know-how and digital marketing for other projects, particularly Phuket Metaverse City, which is slated to be the country's first province featured on the metaverse with a focus on tourism and wellness, he said.
"New digital marketing tools will help drive tourism towards new trends and reach new segments," Mr Nithee said.
Last month, the TAT joined the "Global Tourism Forum: Dubai Blockchain for Travel" to announce its readiness to adopt technology that could help the industry recover from the Covid crisis.
Kitti Pornsiwakit, president of the smart tourism committee of the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT), said operators need to prepare for the metaverse and should not wait until it's too late.
Mr Kitti, also head of the TCT's metaverse tourism working group, said digital literacy is a key issue for tourism operators as the outbreak forced them to pursue digital transformation and change their mindset to embrace cutting-edge technology.
Even though such a transformation requires an investment budget for digital devices and training, he said there are solutions for operators to start on their metaverse journey with more affordable choices.
Mr Kitti said operators can adapt by using 360-degree panoramic cameras, which cost less than 10,000 baht, or mobile VR box glasses priced to create new travel experiences, then share the tourism content via social media platforms.
In order to speed up digital development, the TCT established a new workforce in January to help operators prepare for the emergence of the metaverse.
The team already visited 20 provinces nationwide to host upskilling courses on the metaverse.
Tourism operators team up with others from different fields such as university students and photographers to learn and create new tourism experiences, as seen in startup hackathon events.
He said provinces less popular with tourists are paying a lot of attention to this trend as local administrations want to use the metaverse and digital tools to help reduce the economic gap with more popular destinations.
Some of these provinces include Prachin Buri, which plans to host its first metaverse concert to avoid mass gatherings, Nakhon Si Thammarat and southern provinces such as Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani.
The TCT aims to introduce 30 areas that have new digital content and should be ready to present on metaverse platforms this year, said Mr Kitti.
Tourism products can be real landscapes of tourism sites, historical stories of ancient kingdoms or paleontological sites, as well as live-streams of famous sunset views or even concerts.
"Thai tourism has to gather speed to become a first mover on the metaverse in Southeast Asia. We have an advantage in terms of technology and remain a popular destination," he said.
Mr Kitti said the government must serve as a facilitator to develop rather than regulate metaverse tourism.
A government budget or incentives can help create an ecosystem for metaverse tourism to grow sustainably and help the industry recover, he said. Metaverse tourism should also be announced as a national strategy to attract professionals to work on its long-term development, said Mr Kitti.