Published: 2021-03-27 13:28
Last Updated: 2021-04-11 13:24
Strict lockdowns and travel limitations during the pandemic have sparked a fresh and keen interest in immersive virtual travel experiences, which have become more accessible and affordable with the introduction of several new applications and virtual reality (VR) hardware.
Even those confined to their homes can take a virtual trip to Machu Picchu, the rainforests of Borneo or a road trip across the United States in a convertible.
Although data on VR travel usage is limited, developers witnessed a surging interest in the activity since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
With the tourism industry widely obliterated by the coronavirus crisis, VR has emerged as both a substitute for real-world travel and a complement to help people plan their next trip.
"It has been skyrocketing," said the creator of Alcove VR, Cezara Windrem.
"We're getting more adoption every month."
Alcove enables users to visit destinations such as island of Malta, while adding a "shared" experience which enables people to interact and even "lead" a family member without the technical skills to navigate in a VR headset.
This allows for shared travel even during a lockdown and other kinds of experiences such as "playing chess with someone on the other side of the planet."
Virtual reality user, Amy Erdt called the experience "similar to (...) online groups, where you really get to know somebody online, or in VR, and you feel like you really know them, sometimes better than people that you know in the physical space."
She added that she sits down with her sister to play games in a "very realistic living room" via VR. "You feel physically like you're in a shared space, which is just different than playing an online game. You know you really -- you can see the body movement."
As the pandemic poses several repercussions on individuals, including implications on mental health due to lengthy lockdowns, leaving people confined to their homes, Erdt compared VR to "therapy", noting that when she finally ordered it, she "justified the cost as, 'Well, it could be cheaper than therapy. And last longer in different ways.'"