Touring the world from your couch: How popular is VR travel in 2020?

Eliza Buglar

Oct 30, 2020

With worldwide lockdowns and domestic restrictions bringing travel to a standstill, 2020 hasn’t gone easy on our global tourism industry.

But what has lockdown done to – or for – tourism through virtual reality? To escape the long days spent holed up in our homes, are more and more of us exploring our dream destinations without stepping foot outside (or changing out of our pyjamas)?

Virtual reality (VR) is a technology that immerses you in a simulated world.1 You can experience this world in a couple of ways, including:

  • headsets (which fully immerses you in the virtual environment)
  • computer desktop (a 3D environment presented to you on a flat screen)
  • cinematic VR through mobile phones (360° panoramas).

Through virtual reality, you can visit places like Antarctica, Yosemite and Chernobyl, as well as a variety of museums and galleries around the world like the British Museum, Smithsonian and Louvre.1

So, to find out if the popularity of virtual travel has changed during these lockdown months, we pulled search volume and Google Trend data for five VR travel-related search terms. The data revealed how search interest in VR travel fared during the first six months of 2020 compared to the same time in 2019.

Methodology
  • We pulled suggested search terms and keywords relating to VR travel from Google to compile a list of search terms.
  • We ran the list through Keywords Everywhere to ascertain the global search volume for each search term in June 2020.
  • We used Keywords Everywhere search volume data to select the top 10 terms with the highest search volumes.
  • We then ran those top 10 search terms through SEM Rush to ascertain the search volumes in various countries for June 2020.
  • We downloaded the Google Trends data for each term in each region (worldwide and individual countries) for the date range 1 January 2019 to 30 June 2020.
  • Using a calculator we built in a spreadsheet, we combined the Google Trends and search volume data for each search term in each region to determine the average search volume for each month in that date range.
  • That data was then used to build the charts for the five search terms with the most interesting data.
Date of data sets
  • Google Trends and search volumes for the search terms (both global and country-level) was gathered on 19-20 August 2020.
  • Google Trends and search volume data for the headset search terms were collected on 27 August 2020.

N.B: Search volumes from Keywords Everywhere and SEM Rush are for June 2020.

Searches per month (SPM) for the five terms in June 2020
  1. virtual travel = 12,100 SPM
  2. virtual tourism = 6,600 SPM
  3. VR travel = 2,400 SPM
  4. virtual reality tours = 1,600 SPM
  5. virtual reality travel = 1,000 SPM

How has the popularity of VR travel changed around the world in the first six months of 2020 compared to 2019?

Virtual travel

Right off the bat, we can see a jump in Google searches for ‘virtual travel’ a few months into 2020. Monthly searches for the term more than doubled from 8,981 searches per month (SPM) in February 2020 to 21,298 in March 2020.

Volume for ‘virtual travel’ climbed to a staggering 25,661 in April 2020; nearly triple that of February’s count and the peak of search interest in those six months of 2020. Furthermore, from March 2020 through to June 2020, monthly searches for ‘virtual travel’ remained at least double that of the search volumes in the same months in 2019.

Why did searches increase?

It’s not altogether surprising why searches jumped in March 2020. That month saw many countries implement stay-at-home advice and restrictions, and by the end of March, most of the world was under some form of stay-at-home order (whether advised or required).2

Likewise, by 31 March 2020, most countries had total border closures or bans on travellers from high-risk regions.3

By the end of April 2020 (the month during which SPM for ‘virtual travel’ reached their highest), many countries around the world required their people to stay at home except for essential purposes,2 and several more had enacted total border closures.3

With so many people around the world stuck at home with no opportunity for travel, it’s no wonder there was such a massive jump in search volumes!

Points of interest for ‘virtual travel’

  • Google searches for ‘virtual travel’ in the US also saw a giant leap in volume in March 2020, again peaking in April. The monthly search volume for ‘virtual travel’ in March 2020 was more than four times the volume seen in March 2019!
  • In Spain, the monthly search volume for ‘virtual travel’ peaked in March before steadily dropping each month afterwards.
  • Search interest in ‘virtual travel’ amongst the UK population fell from January to February 2020, but steadily climbed back up again from February to June.
  • Brazilians don’t seem too fussed with virtual travel, with search volumes dropping each month since February 2020 and volumes in 2019 being higher than those of 2020 for all six months.
  • Search volumes for ‘virtual travel’ in India have increased in each of the first six months of 2020, nearly doubling between April and May.
  • Search volumes in Australia for ‘virtual travel’ steadily climbed from January to April 2020, before peaking that month and dropping in May and June.
  • Japan returned search volume data for just two months – March and June – but in both months, search volumes were higher in 2019 than in 2020.
  • In France, the highest peak in search volume for ‘virtual travel’ was in February 2019. However, the data shows another spike in April 2020 (which almost reached the same number of average monthly searches as February 2019).

Virtual tourism

Like ‘virtual travel’ before it, monthly average searches for ‘virtual tourism’ began to climb from March 2020. Although in a point of difference to ‘virtual travel’, search volumes for ‘virtual tourism’ jumped in April 2020, not March, despite the search volume for March still being around double that of February.

May 2020 saw the peak of search interest in virtual tourism. We looked once again to stay-at-home and travel restrictions to see if there was any correlation.

On 10 May 2020, most countries around the world had ordered their people to stay at home except for essential services or exemptions.2 After this date, though, we saw many countries begin to lift the stay-at-home orders to ‘recommended’ instead of ‘required’. Some countries – including Mongolia, Australia, Germany and Japan – had lifted all stay-at-home restrictions by the end of May.

But being free to move around your own country doesn’t mean you can still travel abroad – a majority of countries still had total border closures by the end of May.3

Perhaps those in countries that started lifting stay-at-home orders in May 2020 wanted to see something else besides their backyard and jumped on Google to look up ‘virtual tourism’.

Points of interest for ‘virtual tourism’

  • In Australia, search interest in ‘virtual tourism’ more than doubled between March and April 2020, but the search volume of March 2019 was slightly higher than that of March 2020.
  • Search interest for ‘virtual tourism’ in Spain dipped in March and April 2020 but rose again in May and June. January 2020 saw the peak in search volume for this term.
  •  In 2019, Indonesia recorded monthly search volumes for ‘virtual tourism’ only in February, March and May, but the volumes for those three months were still higher than in the same months in 2020.
  • India saw a jump in search volume (more than double!) for this term between March and April 2020.

VR travel

The monthly search volume for ‘VR travel’ has not been that much higher in the first six months of 2020 compared to the same months in 2019. Monthly searches for ‘VR travel’ were lower in January and May 2020 than they were in the same months of 2019.

Search interest for this term went up and down and back again for the first six months of 2020. The peak in monthly searches occurred in April 2020, when much of the world was confined to its own countries, if not their homes.

Points of interest for ‘VR travel’

  • Search volumes for ‘VR travel’ in the US for the first six months of 2020 were generally high compared to the same time in 2019 (except in March 2020, which had lower search volume than March 2019).
  • In India, search volumes consistently climbed from January to May 2020, peaking that month at 515 SPM.
  • ‘VR travel’ achieved modest search volumes in Germany from January to May 2020, then increased by four times in June 2020.
  • The same occurred in Canada, where search volumes tripled between May and June 2020.

Virtual reality tours

The average monthly search volume for ‘virtual reality tours’ soared during March and April 2020 – a testament to the fact that a significant portion of the world’s population was confined to both their countries and homes.

There was a jump from just 775 SPM in February 2020 right up to 4,561 SPM in March – an astronomical increase of around 488%! Like we’ve already seen with several search terms before it, the jump in search volume for ‘virtual reality tours’ in March 2020 coincides with an increasing number of stay-at-home restrictions being implemented around the world.2

However, there was a fairly significant drop in the average monthly search volumes for this term from 4,242 SPM in April 2020 to 1,962 SPM in May. The numbers rose again very slightly in May, but not anywhere near the high levels of search interest seen earlier in the year.

Points of interest for ‘virtual reality tours’

  • The average monthly search volumes for this term soared in the UK between February and March – in fact, it tripled!
  • The same occurred in the US, where search volumes jumped by just under four times between February and March 2020. Furthermore, the average SPM for ‘virtual reality tours’ in March 2020 was around five times that of the same month in 2019!

Virtual reality travel

Search interest in ‘virtual reality travel’ hasn’t followed a steady pattern, moving up and down throughout the months. There was an increase of nearly 1,000 SPM between March and April 2020, but a decline followed in May and June.

The average monthly searches for this term were slightly higher in February, March and June 2019 than at the same time in 2020.

Points of interest for ‘virtual reality travel’

  • In Canada, search volumes peaked in January 2020 but were lower than 2019 levels in March, April and June.
  • The average monthly search volume in the UK rose earlier in the year also (February 2020) but saw significant drops in March, May and June – particularly in May when search fell to half that of April.
  • Searches for ‘virtual reality travel’ spiked in April 2020 in the US to just over five times what they were in April 2019. However, only March and April 2020 experienced higher search interest in this term than 2019’s numbers.

How has search interest in VR headsets changed?

It’s all well and good to investigate if interest in VR tourism has increased these past months, but are people following through on their interest in virtual travelling? Are they also Googling for VR equipment (like headsets) so that they can embark on their virtual trips?

To find out, we returned once again to search volume data.

Methodology

  • We selected two search terms (‘VR headset’ and ‘virtual reality headset’)
  • We pulled the global search volume data for these two terms from June 2020 from Keywords Everywhere, and the Google Trends data for the date range 1 January 2019 to 30 June 2020.
  • Using the spreadsheet calculator, we combined the search volume and Google Trends data to find the average search volume for the first six months of both 2019 and 2020.
  • We used those average monthly search volumes to build the below chart.

We can see straight away that Google searches for ‘VR headset’ have steadily increased since February 2020, peaking at just over a huge 580,000 average monthly searches in May 2020. This peak was well over 200,000 searches higher than 2019’s peak, which occurred in June.

Likewise, search interest in ‘virtual reality headset’ began to climb from February 2020 onwards, before levelling in April and May at 72,879 average monthly searches. Besides those two months, however, search volumes for this term have been mostly equal to the search volumes of 2019.

Of course, we can’t be 100% sure how many of these searches are due to people looking to virtually travel and how many are for other purposes (like VR gaming). Likewise, there may very well be many more people who have Googled for specific brands of headsets (like Oculus) and so wouldn’t be accounted for in these results.

Whatever people’s reasons for searching for VR headsets, it’s clear that their interest in virtual reality has increased during these months of lockdown.

Travelling through virtual reality not enough for you?

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Our travel insurance comparison service can help you weigh up a range of policies – including policy inclusions and excesses – in just a few minutes. All you need to do is enter in a few details about you and your trip, and away you go!

Sources:

Keywords Everywhere, accessed 19 and 27 August 2020.
SEM Rush – Keyword Overview. Accessed 19 and 20 August 2020.
Google Trends, accessed 19, 20 and 27 August 2020.
1 The Conversation – Antarctica without windchill, the Louvre without queues: how to travel the world from home. By Erik Malcolm Champion, UNESCO Chair of Cultural Heritage and Visualisation, Curtin University. Published 17 June 2020. Accessed 21 August 2020.
2
Our World in Data – Policy Responses to the Coronavirus Pandemic: Stay-at-home restrictions. Last updated 20 August 2020. Accessed 20 August 2020.
3 Our World in Data – Policy Responses to the Coronavirus Pandemic: International and domestic travel: International travel controls. Last updated 20 August 2020. Accessed 20 August 2020.