Craig Warner, a 25- year veteran of Hospitality IT, shares his vision of how hospitality could operate in the metaverse
It's an interesting question: will you be ready for something that for the most part is still hypothetical? It is difficult to think of let alone have a meeting about. To try to help you I’m going to use the iPhone as an analogy.
I can recall watching an interview of the late, Steve Jobs, the Apple CEO at the time, trying to explain to a reporter what the iPhone would become. This was three years before the iPhone launched, it was tough, the reporter couldn’t see any appeal outside of enthusiasts. But Mr. Jobs knew his vision would shape the future and put the Internet Version 1.0 into all our pockets.
This is much the same when we try to imagine what the Metaverse will bring to our lives in hospitality. An easy way to think of it is sitting on the sofa at home with a cumbersome Virtual Reality headset on, feeling a little nauseous virtually walking into your hotel room in Dubai before your trip next week, or looking around a conference room, exhibition hall, or wedding venue. But all this is available now and is only scratching the surface. We need to open our minds much further.
Firstly, let’s imagine this: you come home from work on a cold, dark February evening. You don’t make your dinner and sit down to your TV streaming service, but instead, through a subscription to your favourite restaurant, hotel, or leisure venue, you invite friends to join you for an evening in/out, in the Metaverse and order a takeaway (food chains in my version of the future will bundle food delivery into the subscription).
The sophisticated wearables have come a long way from the headsets of today. Think of popping on a pair of sunglasses or swapping your contact lenses, dress in comfortable clothing with integrated real feel technology, and leave the physical world. You are now at your favourite restaurant brand or leisure venue. The 'Augmented Reality' software has blended your physical world food, cutlery, and drink seamlessly to the virtual world, your mind is completely convinced you are there, you can eat your physical food from the digital plate. Your friends arrive, what are they wearing? 'Clothing' that is not possible to manufacture in the physical world. From there the rest of the evening/weekend is down to you and your group. Hotel stay somewhere hot? OK, finish your meal and let's go.
For most the foreign holiday in the warm weather is at best an annual event, but what if you could visit your favourite destinations staying with your Leisure Brand of choice anytime, what if the wearable technology was so convincing that you could feel the warmth on your skin when you step off the plane, what if you could swim with dolphins and feel their skin with your hands? Stay away anytime with all your friends from anywhere in the world, all for a monthly subscription at the end of the cold dark day in February. All without physically leaving your home - a great step forward for sustainability too.
Turning to Meetings and Events, being involved in a very large property for the best part of 25 years I’ve seen tremendous change, I’ve seen first-hand that the traditional, four walls conference room is very much a thing of the past. You need to appeal to the demands of this generation of employers, employees, and their working environments and reflect and enhance this to attract them to somewhere different, somewhere that looks good on their Instagram. Right now, this costs a great deal and needs continually updating. Physical walls need knocking down and rebuilding, furniture must be replaced and then when finished it needs maintaining and is never quite as stunning as day one.
Imagine this. In five years you look at your venue space and the design meetings don’t revolve around décor, artwork, and are the screens big enough, you are discussing the atmosphere processor, and I don’t mean re-creating a night club, I mean creating an atmosphere in the venue space that can make the delegates feel the heat as they hold their sales meeting on the tropical island, or feel the crispness of Everest for their board meeting, or experience both on the same day! Some venues have invested vast amounts and indeed created amazing meeting rooms inside aquariums etc. As stunning as this is, every time you go back there you are twenty feet down in the same fish tank.
Why are there so few big theme parks in the UK? Because they take up so much space and are incredibly expensive to build and run. You could offer this, but you could offer this as just one of a hundred group participation options; parachuting, Grand Prix driving, wandering through the Amazon, the virtual world is only limited by our imagination.
Back to my analogy. Steve Jobs never imagined that he and other smartphone manufacturers would transform photography from a hobby to a part of everyday life, he didn’t know that social networks would develop specifically for everyone to share these photographs, indeed the iPhone was launched without the App Store.
I can’t predict the future any more now than then and what you’ve read is just my thoughts on the many ways the Metaverse could develop but what I do know is that a lot of Science Fiction has turned into science fact over the last 22 years since we worried about the Millennium bug. And I believe this industry will be a very big part of the future both at work for business and the way everyone's free time is consumed. The vast majority of customers will want to be online in the Internet Version 2.0 and if your business is not there too, you’ll be at a disadvantage.
As such the Metaverse really should be part of your long-term strategies, if only for now as monthly brainstorming to begin to understand and leverage the out-of-the-box opportunities the Metaverse will bring to Hospitality, Leisure, Meetings, and Events.