Metaverse applications in Hospitality
The term “metaverse” originated in Neal Stephenson’s somewhat dystopian 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, as a combination the words “meta” and “universe”, according to Wikipedia.
Metaverse development is often linked to advancements in virtual reality technology due to the increasing demands for a fully immersive, three-dimensional (3-D), virtual experience, and recent interest in metaverse development is influenced by Web 3.0-generation Internet capabilities.
In science fiction, the “metaverse” is a hypothetical iteration of the Internet as a single, universal, and immersive virtual world that is facilitated by the use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets. In colloquial usage, a “metaverse” is a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection.
“Metaverse applications can bring benefits to the hospitality industry and whilst expensive to implement right now, the early innovators stand to gain the most by attracting many customers to their hotel, and well designed metaverse applications will enable hotels to gain a lot”, said Mr. Wang Swee Lee, an independent consultant and technology advisor in the hospitality, healthcare and senior citizen home industries, who also has over 42 years of experience in telecommunications, information technology, multimedia building intelligence, smart control technology and AI.
An example is a metaverse application which lets prospective guests, wearing 3-D virtual-reality goggles, tour the hotel as an avatar in three-dimensional (3-D) virtual space before booking a room. Another would allow participants to attend conferences remotely as avatars in 3-D virtual space, and interact with other participants who are either present in person or as 3-D avatars.
“One of the major challenges in the hospitality business is meeting ever-evolving guest expectations. From seamless booking processes and unique stay experiences to valuable package offerings, there is high demand for an optimised guest experience and since many of today’s travellers are tech-savvy, the metaverse can transform the hospitality industry and redefine the guest experience”, said Wang.
The ability to “try before you buy” can play a key role in events and conferences, giving the ability to see a location before booking, especially as hybrid meetings become more commonplace.
In the same vein, there will be companies that might not want to travel for work conferences at all, leading to the rise of hybrid events. The metaverse will then act as a tool to help break down the divide between those attending in-person and those attending virtually.
For instance, with the use of virtual reality and augmented reality technology, in-person participants can see holograms of virtual participants, whilst those joining virtually can see avatars of in-person participants live in the metaverse. For panel discussions, rather than simply having a video feed projected on a screen, virtual reality and augmented reality allows participants to discuss topics as 3-D avatars in a virtual 3-D space.
Today’s Metaverse is made up of multiple layers, which fall into four categories:
Enablers – include platforms that moderate and manage security, digital identity, data governance, privacy, content moderation, and Metaverse economy.
Infrastructure and hardware – relate to device hardware, components, accessories/peripherals and OS layers that are part of the human interface layer and the underlying infrastructure across cloud, semiconductors, networks, etc., that powers the Metaverse.
Platforms – facilitate distribution and discovery of content, experiences, apps—including browsers, search, visual search, app stores, in-app store-fronts and core set of tools and platforms for building 3-D experiences—including design, game engines, AI services, and creator tools
Content & experiences – includes first-party content, developer content, creator content, user-generated content, applications tied to specific metaverse use cases—ranging from learning to collaboration to events to industry-specific applications and virtual environments where a large number of users can gather, interact, create, and move in and out of different experiences.
Metaverse in Hospitality
The metaverse combines virtual reality and augmented reality technologies to enable social interactions in a digital space by letting users in the form of a 3-D avatars, participate in immersive social experiences, thus bridging the gap between the digital and the physical worlds.
“For example, it lets someone wearing virtual and augmented reality goggles in their living room in Malaysia to virtually walk through a hotel room in Tokyo to view it in 3-D before deciding to book it for their holiday, thus providing guests with a clearer sense of what to expect before they commit to booking a room. It also lets hotels give their guests access virtual spaces, host virtual birthday celebrations and other events”, said Wang.
Beyond it’s social aspect, the metaverse helps businesses overcome physical boundaries, such as by enabling participants at conferences and seminars to participate virtually from their home countries, whilst it also creates a space for enjoyment, meaningful interactions, and brand awareness.
This virtual world also lets visitors reserve hotel facilities such as restaurants, tour hotel facilities or surrounding visitor attractions and to compare hotels, which provides a new target group for which hotels can create customised experiences to turn virtual clients into real-life paying clients, and this has opened up new opportunities for investment and new revenue streams, and hotels must be ready to embrace this new technology to remain relevant in the market.
With the hospitality industry primarily being service-based, the physical reception of guests, the metaverse is now transforming hospitality into an experience-based industry, and hotels must be able to make these experiences just as memorable as the physical ones, which creates new opportunities for establishing a chain of metaverse hotels, both with physical and virtual locations, where participants can attend events in person or virtually as an avatar and be able to interact with each other as if they are physically there.
“However, physical travel will still remain, though hotels can now enhance real travel with virtual tourism, and connect with consumers in new ways through metaverse technology”, said Wang.
Artificial intelligence (AI) used within the hospitality metaverse can improve everything from in-person customer service and online customer service, right through to data analysis and various virtual and augmented reality offerings, by understand words, images, video and text, and how to respond to them whilst overcoming language barriers by generating 3-D images, animations, speech and artwork, which can improve customer service, data analysis and other technology offerings at hotels.
“The metaverse is still evolving and what it is today is still far from what it will be tomorrow, as it holds the potential to create the most immersive marketing experiences ever seen in the hospitality industry, with this virtual world taking the ‘try before you buy’ concept to a whole new level, with the metaverse creating virtual hotel experiences both for guests and prospective guests by providing them with new ways to interact with the hotel from their own homes or offices”, said Wang.
Increasing hotels’ revenue
The metaverse can be a game changer in helping sales teams generate more revenue by reducing the time required to close bookings of meeting spaces and banquet halls, without customers’ decision makers having to visit the hotel in person to inspect the facilities.
Renown international hotel brands have already adopted this approach and are working with metaverse content creators to create a digital twin – I.E. a virtual, three-dimensional replica of the property, and this enables them to reach a larger audience without having to invest money, only resources. sales representatives can also use this channel and new strategies to search for and reach potential clients.
The metaverse also lets hoteliers to up-sell their offerings by inviting them to virtually explore different room options, explore different possible experiences, see different products and services, view a sample of the hotel’s restaurant menu, and possibly decide to take the more expensive options, which would increase the hotel’s revenue.
Virtual reality tours are amongst the most prominent emerging hotel marketing trends which helps to enhance the booking process, and the metaverse can take this experience further by letting avatars of prospective guests walk through exact virtual replicas of rooms and get a clear sense of its actual size and what features to expect if they choose to upgrade.
Whilst people often attend celebrations such as birthdays, wedding receptions and so forth in hotels in person, a metaverse hotel lets guests who cannot attend in person to attend virtually and participate in all the celebrations and interact with each other as if there are physically present.
A hotel can also place a guest celebrating their birthday in the metaverse as a surprise, together with all their friends and family present in person.
Since geographic constraints may limit the ability of participants to attend in-person events and meetings at hotels, the metaverse lets event organisers create parallel events for networking, seminars, guided tours and more, available worldwide without participants having to travel. These offerings can be complementary to in-person offerings and can be used t generate additional revenue.
Loyalty programmes are great ways to attract guests coming back to a hotel, and new kinds of loyalty programmes can be created in the metaverse, such as to invite your guests to participate in activities, in events and challenges to be eligible for special rewards, promotions or exclusive deals, not only for existing programme members but also to encourage non-members to sign up.
Even before the first metaverse version or “Metaverse 1.0” has fully taken off, already the term “Metaverse 2.0” has begun to emerge, and refers to the next iteration of metaverse developments.
Primarily, this involves a transition from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 metaverse applications, where Web 3.0 apps will operate across a distributed public network of nodes, not a centralised private entity.
Also, Web 3.0 is more community-centric, facilitating decentralised governance of projects and platforms. As a result, end-users and consumers feel more involved with a brand, which helps a business to grow in line with its target market demands.
The key difference is that whilst Metaverse 1.0 mainly profits those working on the technology or individuals with high technical expertise, the commercialisation of Metaverse 2.0 will appeal to more everyday users with an expansion and innovation of career prospects. As such, the way people will interact and generate income will drastically change with the future of the metaverse.
Web 3.0 vs Web 2.0
Web 2.0 is what we are experiencing today, where companies develop and provide products and services in a centralised manner over the Internet.
Web 3.0 is the next generation of the Internet, which lets users control and own their creations and online content, digital assets and online identities, as well as to monetise them through the use of blockchain technology, cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
Blockchain technology lets users interact with online services across decentralised peer-to-peer networks of computers, which lets anyone with an Internet connection to bypass middlemen, which returns full control of users’ digital identities, how and when data is shared back to the users.
Being decentralised, Web 3.0 gives users complete control over the privacy of their data, whilst with Web 2.0, the centralised service provider has full control over access to the service and over users’ data. However, at the same time, with Web 3.0, users have to take the responsibility to protect their own data and assets as they are its only custodians.
As we move towards a decentralised Web 3.0, we need to consider what kind of internet we want in the metaverse, which is all about the merger of virtual and physical worlds. So, it’s very important to have an interoperable and open source public environment which ensures different virtual worlds can be interlinked, bringing assets from one to another and overlapping each other in seamless ways.
The metaverse has the potential to transform the pandemic-hit travel and hospitality industry, but building an alternate reality world will definitely be challenging, as the metaverse will require strong collaborations between technology companies, innovators and policymakers, and it will be interesting to see how much the metaverse ignites the travel industry and how, in the upcoming years, the metaverse blurs the lines between the physical and digital worlds.
The future of the metaverse involves a new way of social interaction and revenue streams for users. As many real-life career roles are transferable to the metaverse, it will take little adaptation to transition to a new form of employment, though this will require users to educate themselves about the functionalities and potentials of the technologies used in the metaverse.
Since metaverse technology is still evolving, its full potential is still unknown, though it’s clear that it allows hoteliers to expand their offerings to the virtual space, thus widening their reach and connecting with possible clients previously unreachable – all whilst potentially boosting revenues.
To succeed in this new reality, hoteliers must be strategic and set aside a marketing budget for the metaverse and identify the revenue objectives to accomplish.
“When implemented correctly, the metaverse can unlock endless possibilities, allowing hotels to stay ahead of their competition, and there is no better time than now for hoteliers to explore what the metaverse can do for their hotels”, said Wang.
About Wang Swee Lee
Wang, holds a BSc degree (1st Class Honours) in Computer and Control System from the U.K., as well as professional accreditations and memberships such as C.Eng, FIMA, C.Eng, MinstMC, MMIM, MMNCC.
In his long career, Wang served as Chief Executive Officer at Siemens Malaysia Private Communication Division, a member of Siemens AG, Germany Private Communication Asia-Pacific
regional management board, as Senior Vice-President with Siemens China where he brought Siemens hospitality communication solution to No.1 in the China market, led a team to develop and implement the command-and-control centre application for the 2008 Olympic games in Qingdao and installed professional dispatching systems at most major airlines in China.
After he retired from Siemens, Wang joined Cotell Intelligent Technology (Shenzhen) Co. Ltd., in China, where he spearheaded the development of guest centric hospitality communication terminals, connectivity devices, electrical faceplates, integrated smart guest-room controls, robotic, artificial Intelligence and software applications.
His guest-room telephone design had created a breakthrough in the global market and his mission was to provide a series of guest-friendly communication devices, applications and solutions to the global hospitality market community, which can enhance their organisations’ performance and improve guest loyalty.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wang turned his attention on new normal contactless smart technologies for the hospitality, healthcare and senior citizen home sectors. He also provides consultancy and advises on the new technology to suit the latest market development.