Over the course of the past two years, the travel industry couldn’t be more reimagined. Or could it?

Travel – as we know it – has been impacted to the extreme due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Regulations and guidelines have been fluctuating across the world due to numerous travel restrictions and the unpredictability of virus mutations.

Meanwhile, the ‘metaverse’ has been dominating global technology and entertainment headlines, often positioned as the next big way to explore new experiences and create lasting social connections.

What if Web 3.0 is the next avenue for people seeking the thrills of the travel experience? What would that reinvented experience be like? And what will business look like for brands competing for customers in the ever-evolving loyalty space?

DigiconAsia had the opportunity to discuss these futuristic – or are they already current? – possibilities with Daniel Cantorna, Vice President: Data, Insights and Technology, Collinson Asia-Pacific.

Daniel Cantorna, Vice President, Data, Insights and Technology, Asia-Pacific, Collinson

From your perspective, how has the travel sector in Asia Pacific transformed over the last 2 years?

Daniel Cantorna (DC): Although travel in Asia Pacific has been in a constant state of flux over the last two years, the landscape is starting to look promising now with many countries gearing up to reopen their borders and ease ongoing travel restrictions.

However, we may have to wait a little longer to catch up to European nations in terms of lifting mask mandates, quarantine, and testing requirements, and going back to pre-pandemic levels of travel. As the vaccine uptake rises across the region, alongside reduced travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, the prospects of travel recovery in the region will likely assume an accelerated pace.

Members of the travel industry continue to implement global health and safety standards to enable a safe and seamless return to travel under the current circumstances. However, restoring traveler confidence may be a gradual process, subject to the possibility of returning variants, and the overall convenience and simplicity of travel.

While that happens, we are seeing a new trend of virtual travel emerge in the region, made possible by the growing popularity of revolutionary new technologies such as Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, and – in the near future – the metaverse.

Brands are reimagining the possibility of creating immersive and interactive travel experiences in the digital world that enable people to explore new destinations without leaving their homes.

How would you define or describe ‘the metaverse’?

DC: The metaverse is essentially the next step in the evolution of the internet. Over the years, we have progressed from Web 1.0, which was a unidirectional channel of receiving information from the internet, to Web 2.0. This has enabled a two-way communication by allowing us to interact with each other via social networking platforms, and helped us develop the concept of community on the internet. Web 3.0 will involve putting yourself into the digital context and participating in immersive experiences, through the addition of a three-dimensional layer to the internet.

The metaverse will seamlessly bind our physical and digital worlds together, elevating our concept of community by allowing for the virtual replication of real-world experiences.

What is the possibility of traveling in the metaverse, and why might this be an attractive experience for travelers?

DC: The convergence of our physical and digital worlds in the metaverse presents a tremendous opportunity for the travel and hospitality industries, especially since many have been hit hard by the pandemic. This new avenue allows them to reimagine the possibility of replicating some of their physical experiences in an imagined world of virtual reality.

Our physical world has become increasingly disconnected over the last two years. The digital world, on the other hand, has evolved with the creation of new spaces for people to engage in. New technologies such as the Internet of Things and Augmented Reality have played a crucial role in enhancing existing experiences and creating new ones for travelers; the metaverse is pushing the boundary even further with all kinds of experiences starting to emerge on it.

For instance, you can now go on a National Geographic vacation in the metaverse, climb a mountain, go skiing, enjoy a swim, or even join a safari. All of which make for very exciting experiences for consumers.

However, the majority of experiences on the metaverse are not available at scale. This is because we are at the early stages of metaverse adoption and its full potential has not been clearly defined yet, but any experience that you can have in the real world could be recreated in the digital world, opening up a world of possibilities.

As we wait for the metaverse to gain greater acceptance, widely adopted technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things will remain as key drivers of the digital travel experiences.

How could brands potentially leverage metaverse travel? 

DC: Be it workspace collaboration, gaming, fashion, or even digital real estate, the metaverse has unlocked new opportunities of engagement across multiple sectors, guided by interaction and ownership. By virtue of operating in an industry that allows for a plethora of interactive experiences, travel, tourism, and hospitality brands stand to benefit significantly from establishing their presence in the metaverse.

To engage a wider group of customers, brands in these sectors can create unique virtual experiences or extend some of their real-world offerings into the digital world. Furthermore, they can increase loyalty by rewarding customers for engaging with the brand through digital ownership of collectibles or tokenized unlocks that provide exclusive access to these virtual experiences. These experiences could be anything from a simple cocktail or a VR tour of a holiday destination.

What are some key areas you see evolving in the loyalty space?

DC: Since the pandemic first hit, a higher number of redemptions for experiential rewards, such as wellbeing experiences and the development of new skills have been seen across our loyalty platforms – demonstrating the value brands can bring their customers by offering relevant, personalized experiences that cater to their individual interests.

Another trend that is gaining traction among many brands in the world of loyalty is the possibility to tokenize experiences using non-fungible tokens (NFTs). We’re seeing everyone from hotels to luxury brands and artists tokenize their elements to assign intrinsic value and a virtual representation to real-world items in the digital world. Brands are packaging up benefits and unlocking VIP access to events, services and experiences whilst simultaneously rewarding their customers through NFTs.

Customers gain exclusive digital ownership as a result, and their loyalty journey is extended into the digital world. NFTs also provide brands with an opportunity to unlock value and create granular experiences for their customers.

Ultimately, long-term customer loyalty can only be achieved by placing loyalty at the heart of the company strategy, investing in personalization and enhanced digital experiences, and by combining a human touch with data and analytical rigor. Having these in place makes it possible for brands to create stand out experiences for customers, who in turn reward them with their loyalty.

At Collinson, we believe that to identify and retain your most loyal and valuable customers, it is essential to understand and reward their behaviors and preferences. The best approach to make this possible is to streamline your data to achieve a single customer view – which is ultimately a complete profile containing as much information on an individual as possible – that can be leveraged to deliver relevant, engaging experiences that show you understand your customers, and in turn create deeper connections.