Metaverse to complement tourism and hospitality industries: Experts

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Panelists during a session at Sharjah International Travel and Tourism Forum.

Tourism industry experts are in awe with travel hitting new highs after the slow growth in the past two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Travel industry is back on track with statistics hitting pre-pandemic levels, said Edwardo Soares, Managing Director of Intellias Middle East, during the closing panel discussion titled ‘An Open Horizon and Endless Possibilities’, at the 9th edition of the Sharjah International Travel and Tourism Forum (SITTF), which was concluded recently.

“Data sits right in the centre of what is happening in the travel sector. Knowledge-sharing between public and private sectors through data analyses will help streamline new experiences for end users,” said Soares, highlighting the benefits of travel predictions in providing enhanced customer experiences.

He added that integration of services from multiple sectors is a must for an optimal experience. “Companies should leverage their technologies and also the understanding of its customer base to adjust their offerings accordingly,” he said.

Cliff Szue, CEO of Multiverse, shed light into his experience of building the digital twin of Sharjah city on the metaverse. “Sharjahverse was created in collaboration with the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Authority. We used geospatial data from satellite images to create a 3D explorable environment. For the interiors, we captured images using special video cameras and combined them using algorithms and AI. This digital twin city was created to bridge the journey between the physical and digital worlds. Creating such experiences have shown to increase employee productivity, and is a new way to connect to customers,” he said.

“When the Gen-Z will turn into primary economic spenders, they will be on the metaverse as emails will then feel outdated. Immersive travel and hospitality experiences are going to be on the forefront soon as this category will want to go through a virtual experience before they attend it for real,” he added.

Pekka Kelkka, Web 3 and Blockchain Advisor and Educator, said that customer service projects on the metaverse are doing wonders creating holistic experiences for users. “Translating these experiences to different sectors within the hospitality and tourism industry will give a boost to tourists with no borders. We are transitioning from 2D internet to 3D simulations slowly and steadily. Today, we can chat with public entities in the UAE with our digital avatars, this  is one of the early forms of us entering the 3D world,” he added.

“In the same way that we build architectural marvels in the real world, we can revel in the metaverse  and build imaginations that will provide an enjoyable interactive experience for the users to visit hotels and tourist facilities in advance,” said Kelkka.

Separately, during a panel discussion titled ‘Emerging Niches in Technology & Architecture’ at SITTF the role of technology in tourism was addressed and how it plays a part in making tourism more sustainable and robust.

Starting the discussion Dr Jerry Kolo, Professor of Urban Planning & Program Academic Coordinator, MUP, stated that although Sharjah is known for its hospitality, sometimes it’s not always that easy to get this message out to the world. He explained having robust and resilient tourism and creating experiential travel to the city was essential to building a sustainable industry. Expanding on this he mentioned that the emotional and social intelligence of  tourists and locals had changed over the years and although technology has helped to make things easier and sometimes more exciting for travellers, the bottom line was identifying stakeholder roles, playing to their strengths and creating an experience that promoted spending and wanting to return.

Eng Aisha Obaid Almheiri, Assistant Director of Support Service for IT at Sharjah International Airport Authority explained that technology had played a huge role in tourism, especially in a post-pandemic world. She stated people travelling back in the early 2000’s could never have imagined being able to use “self-check in” mobile apps to make and update bookings, automatic security checks, and that technology as well as expectations were ever-evolving. As Sharjah International Airport is one of the most significant gateways to the UAE and the region it was important that they implement the very best in technology to make travel safe, secure and hassle free to be a seamless journey. Technological advancements have been implemented at Sharjah International Airport from the parking lot and drop-off zones all the way to boarding and included tracking beacons, peer-to-peer location, smart info desk and auto-boarding to make a painless experience.

Almheiri also revealed the news that through their goals in environmental safety and sustainability, Sharjah International Airport has achieved a zero-carbon grading regarding ‘Scope 3’ emissions, and was the first airport in the Gulf to do so and second in the Middle East.

Prof Martin Spraggon, Professor of Strategy & Innovation at the American University of Sharjah, revealed that we are dealing with a volatile environment in a post-pandemic world, but it also presented a window of opportunity.

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