The advent of commercial jet travel and the home cine-camera have all changed how we choose to spend our free time and what we do when we get there.

However, there's a new technology promising to take the 'staycation' to another dimension.

Virtual reality – leisurely abbreviated to the techy-acronym 'VR' – is the much hyped and misunderstood medium that promises to change how we travel.

In same the way we might once have sit through the obligatory family-holiday slideshow,
– or today's envious trawl of travelling friends' Instagram stories – VR enthusiasts see it as the logical next step for how we share our travel experience.

Eye in the sky: #360 video of Aytthaya temples

A birds eye view on Ayutthaya temple ruins in Thailand, shot in beautiful 360 by Mettle #VR

Posted by NZH Travel on Thursday, 26 April 2018

However, others see it as the beginning of much more.


The immersive nature of the medium has led to some proclaiming that the future of VR could be a substitute for "being there".

"What?" I hear you scoff.

"Trade in daiquiris and the sensation of sand between your toes for one of those ridiculous headsets? No thanks!"

It's true there is still some way to travel down the VR tourism path, but imagine:

Soon you could be transported to Everest base camp or a lone island in the Maldives in milliseconds – without the need for delays, airport trips and carting luggage.

The numbers suggest many feel we're almost at that point now. And there are some extra benefits in cashing in on this virtual tourism expedition.

In recent years Tourism Australia has invested in 360 degree videos. Its "immersive" tourism videos have been seen over 10.5 million times - and more importantly, a fifth of tourists viewed these videos as part of researching and choosing a potential holiday destination.

The research conducted by Tourism Australia and Google's Think Board showed that VR was a great way to showcase the country's nature and environment, reporting that experiences such as swimming with the whale sharks of Ningaloo Reef resonated "particularly well among consumers."


And its importance is only set to grow. The survey showed that tourists (22 per cent of US, 25 per cent of UK and 30 per cent of the Australian domestic market) were considering using VR to plan a holiday.

While the tourism body insists "there's nothing like Australia", VR might be close.

Unsurprisingly, tourism bodies have been dabbling in VR on both sides of the Tasman; in response Pure NZ released a video of a virtual kea.

In 2007, Google Maps launched Street View, a collection of 360 VR photos allowing users to visualise journeys from street level. Since then, the service has captured "VR experiences" of migrating crabs, national monuments and become a go-to for travellers looking to get directions for prospective journeys.

The search engine has already created virtual maps of entire countries, the latest of which is Kenya.

This is welcome news to Cyrus Onyiego, Country Manager for booking website Jumia Travel, saying in an interview with Africa Tech it will "go a long way in bringing the entire world to the country not only virtually, but also physically".

It might not be a virtual holiday as such, but VR has already become a vital part of travel planning.

The technology is set to be a big driver for tourism destinations.

However, might the true virtue of VR be in reducing overtourism?

Destinations like Thailand's Maya Bay have been forced to close their beaches to visitors, in response to environmentally harmful levels of tourists. As other bucket-list favourites, such as Machu Picchu in Peru and Boracay in the Philippines, consider similar measures to curb damaging visitor rates,VR tourism has been mooted as a way to slake environmentally damaging wanderlust.

In an article onThe Conversation authored by researchers from Australia's Sunshine Coast University, it was suggested that "VR could offer experiences of locations like this without impacting the natural environment".

The academics were great believers in the "new opportunities for travellers" presented by VR. The research sees the technology transformative to the travel industry, but also for those taking part - with subjects reporting feelings of "relaxation, rejuvenation, expectation, surprise, trust in oneself, and improved self-esteem".

The article goes as far as to suggest that it might even alter the makeup of local tourism based economies: proscribing that "alternate forms of income for local people need to be developed to support economic viability".

It seems both of these uses for VR in tourism stand in contradiction. Will the technology be used to drive tourists to destinations or keep them at home?

There is still a long way to go down the journey towards virtual tourism - and while we might be able to visualise the end goals of this technology, we will just have to wait and see what happens.