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Virtual realities are go: is XR the next big thing in tourism?

5 min read
29 Sep 2021
An AI generated face

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in a futuristic, technologically developed world? That may not be as far off as you think. With the recent boom in virtual reality and travelling the world without leaving your seat, humanity is only just getting started with possibility.

Extended Reality (XR) is shaping many industries as we know it, particularly tourism and travel. The Internet of Things (IoT) – everyday objects that have been upgraded into ‘smart’ objects –  is growing more integrated into our everyday lives.

But what can XR, the umbrella term for virtual, augmented and mixed reality, really bring to the tourism party?

The different types of reality

Virtual reality (VR) involves headsets and gadgets that are constantly evolving. It immerses the user into a completely virtual world where everything you see is digital. Gadgets for VR can range from the highest level of complexity to a simple cardboard box you slot your phone into.1

Augmented reality (AR) involves capturing the IRL world around you and adds elements to it. For example, the ever-popular Pokémon Go mobile game is a quintessential example of what AR can be.1

Mixed reality (MR), on the other hand, is a combination of VR and AR.1 Simples.

 A man using a VR headset

Image credit: Shutterstock

XR is currently accelerating in the travel and tourism space, but why? Smart Cities. Smart Cities like Linz, Copenhagen and Lyon2 are fast becoming some of the most viable, sustainable and attractive places to visit. Not only are their connections to IoT making the ability to run these cities so much easier, but they are also constantly pushing the boundaries of the very definition of innovation.

Australia does have a plan to become more innovative. In 2016, there were plans laid out to invest in smarter infrastructure, policy, and technology.3 Although, there hasn’t been an increase in this since then. Though, there is no denying that technology and technological interconnectedness is the way forward, our future.

The power of XR in our everyday lives

Compare the Market spoke to Luke Cameron, Founder and Director of Valis, an AR digital agency based in Melbourne. According to Mr Cameron, the integration of XR is the future of smart tourism and cities. Not only can XR help businesses and consumers enhance the every day, but it can also provide custom experiences using data from its users. “Reality 2.0” as it were.

“XR can definitely help in this area. Obviously, we’re looking at smart cities that are popping up more and more around the world. XR can really help with allowing businesses seamless transitions, into their new environment.”

After mentioning a successful Afterpay Day activation that Valis was a part of this year, Mr Cameron said that consumers now can purchase directly through AR and AR-powered sites, citing their client, Kmart as an example.

“A few years ago, the tech wasn’t there to allow you to see the product and then go direct to purchase. Now it’s all possible, we’re doing all of our work through the web and it’s very integrated. You don’t have to download an app anymore, consumers can just log into a website and say, ‘I want to see that ottoman’ view in AR, place it next to your couch to get a visual sense and then tap to purchase directly.”

 Architects using AR

Image credit: Shutterstock

The future of virtual tourism

In line with the notion of try-before-you-buy, Mr Cameron believes that this can be directly applied to tourism. Using VR, AR, or MR can help bolster tourism by letting users see a place and immerse themselves in it before purchasing a ticket. Not only could this revolutionise the travel space, but by being in a virtual world, other languages, cultures and histories could be explored with a “virtual tour guide” or in AR experiences.

“There would be options for multi-language guides, catering for a larger set of people coming in. There will be the tourism custom selection tool, so consumers can choose what language to speak in whether Mandarin and Cantonese and Spanish or others.”

We also spoke with Evet Jean, the Marketing Manager for Ignition Immersive, a Melbourne-based organisation focused on VR and AR app development. Mr Jean provided us with a great view on how we can integrate XR into a lived experience.

“[XR] can offer a lot in terms of additional experiences both in-person and externally…It can focus on participation and infrastructure services, but it can also be through narrative and historic replication and learning…When integrated with our lives, it can offer a greater understanding of the place we live in.”

While Mr Jean thinks that the implementation of XR into marketing does influence consumer reaction and the choice to buy, he also thinks that if everyone made an AR app, the appeal would simply not be there.

“I think if everyone is doing an AR app it doesn’t make sense to use it. I think it’s better done within a community setting and I think AR works best when there’s a connection between the digital world and the physical world.”

“I’ve seen a lot of musicians work with something like Fortnite, there’s no reason why Fortnite couldn’t work within a space. Like a destination. There’s no reason why games and other existing virtual worlds can’t integrate cities and places and locations.”

Finally, Mr Jean added that while people may seem to think VR would become a replacement for travelling, he sees it as a different way to market a location. “That’s like the ways that we explore those worlds, and it’s not a replication, I think most people think that the VR experience would replicate and supersede going, but it’s really a way to offer people a different experience in understanding that place.”

XR may be the way forward for how smart cities begin to operate, however, there will undoubtedly be bumps along the way. It starts with the idea but ultimately ends with the user. People are slowly integrating XR into their lives whether they are aware of it or not, or if they like it. Nevertheless, it’s here to stay, grow and develop cities, changing the face of tourism as we know it.


1 What Is Extended Reality (XR) and How Is it Changing the Future?, HP, Accessed September 2021

2 9 European smart tourism destinations to watch and learn from, Cleverciti, Accessed September 2021

3 Smart Cities Plan, Australian Government, Accessed September 2021

Ignition Immersive:


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avatar of author: Nahima Kern

Written by Nahima Kern

Nahima is passionate about all things the written word. After completing her Masters in Writing, Editing, and Publishing she set her sights on continuing her writing. When she’s not writing travel-related content for Compare the Market, she is off reading a good book, exercising her love of publishing, and listening to good music.

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