Try Now, Fly Later: How Tech Could Shape the Future of Travel

person holding smartphone inside airplane

Technology is changing every aspect of our lives. From where and when we shop to how we keep in touch with friends, even as far as giving us the freedom to work from anywhere we can get a mobile internet signal, digital tech is making the world a very different place to what it was 20 or 30 years ago.

But what about travel? There is an argument that, compared to other aspects of our lives, travel has remained relatively untouched by the influence of technology.

There’s one big and obvious exception – the emergence of online booking. While once upon a time nearly all travel arrangements went through specialist travel agents, who had access to information about flights, accommodation and the rest, now all of that is freely available online. Today’s travellers have more control and information at their fingertips than ever. You can read up about any place on Earth, look up flights and have a trip booked in a matter of minutes.

But in technological terms, online travel booking is old news. Some of the biggest names in the game, the likes of Skyscanner and, have been around for more than 20 years. Even Airbnb is approaching 15 years in the game. Is there anything truly innovative on the horizon that could shape the future of travel?

Virtual travel

According to a new survey by, perhaps so. Quizzing 24,000 people on what their travel priorities would be in 2023 and beyond, one of the most eye-catching findings was the level of interest in a futuristic new trend – virtual travel.

The fact that 42% of people say they will use virtual reality to inspire their holiday choices next year isn’t that much of a surprise. With ownership of VR headsets starting to take off, this makes sense. Although they are most closely associated with gaming, VR headsets can provide pretty much any kind of immersive virtual experience – travelling into space, diving under the ocean, or riding a rollercoaster. Or, walking around some exotic location to decide if you like the idea of travelling there for real.

What is more of a head-turning statistic from the survey is the fact that nearly as big a proportion of people (39%) say they like the sound of turning the VR experience into the holiday itself. So rather than simply having a quick sample of a place in a VR headset – which is just an upgrade of researching it online, really – the virtual ‘trip’ would become an extended experience sought after as a leisure activity in its own right.

This really does represent a radical departure in how we could approach travel. It depends on the next-stage evolution of virtual reality into the metaverse, a concept heavily backed by Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg (who has, of course, changed his company’s name to Meta).

The metaverse is essentially a VR version of the web, a connected digital space where, instead of seeing text and images and videos on websites, a digital representation of yourself (your ‘avatar’) walks around and interacts with other people and things.

You could view it as an extension of gaming. Not all video games are fictional action adventures. Some are replications of real activities, such as playing sports or flying a plane. Virtual holidays would fall into the same category – a chance to experience far-flung destinations you might never get to visit for real (or at least never considered visiting), all from the comfort of your own home, for an affordable price.

What the metaverse adds is variety for a more satisfying experience. Rather than walk around a static digital simulation, the whole point of the metaverse is that real-world attractions like museums, cultural tours, aquatic centres, diving schools, theme parks, shops and pretty much anything else can create their own digitised versions of themselves and connect.

Via their VR headset, the virtual traveller would not only be able to browse the local sights, they’d also be able to interact with other people, both locals and fellow cyber tourists. Further down the line, technological advances like haptic feedback – a type of touch simulation – could let you feel the sand beneath your feet as you walk the beach or the warmth of the sun.

A new source of travel inspiration?

Ok, let’s dial things back a little. Would any of this really replace people taking real-world trips? No, probably not. But as a keen traveller, would you like the opportunity to sample lots of fascinating places as and when you like in between trips? Sure you would.

And perhaps the most intriguing thing is the potential to change real-world travel habits. According to the survey, 47% of people feel they would be more adventurous in their travel habits if they could visit a place in the metaverse first. A lot of people stick to tried and tested destinations simply out of fear of the unknown. But with virtual travel making everywhere more accessible, we could see increased interest in more out-of-the-way places.

Similarly, it raises the question of whether it would encourage people to travel more frequently. As 59% of people also told, even with the most convincing immersive technology, visiting somewhere virtually would not be enough for them to tick it off their bucket list. In fact, it would probably make people more keen to head to places for real.

If you’re taking regular virtual trips in the metaverse, your appetite to visit more and more of those places for real is only likely to increase. Before you know it, you’ll be jetting off several times a year. You best get that multi-trip travel insurance policy sorted…

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