Back in 2001, an acquaintance who worked for Lonely Planet told me about a surprise discovery. The travel guide business had an audience of people who would buy their travel books, but never travel. Lonely Planet dubbed them “virtual tourists”. Now Lonely Planet, and others, have become excited by tourism powered by virtual reality (VR) – both on this planet and, thanks to NASA, on others.
But VR tourism isn’t only about recreating a virtual version of reality that renders travel to the destination unnecessary. It can enhance tourism in other ways – by allowing tourists to handle precious historical artefacts in virtual form, or by retelling contested histories from previously unexplored perspectives. VR films are also being developed by travel companies, such as Thomas Cook. And Tourism Australia has partnered with Google to understand the marketing potential of VR (well, 360 degree panoramic videos).