A virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel

In my book on Virtual Travel, I have spoken about how a virtual trip to a museum, art gallery, or other tourist attraction can actually be better than being there. I am not saying that a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel is presently better than being there. But, it is very good indeed. You can actually do a tour, where you have the chapel all to yourself.

Click on or paste this link into your browser:

http://www.vatican.va/various/cappelle/sistina_vr/

and you’ll see the Chapel on your screen. Hold left mouse button down and move it around to navigate. Click (+) or (-) to zoom in our out on any aspect of the floor, walls and ceiling.

Now, I’ll grant that this is NOT yet the completely, “as if you were there” experience you will be able to enjoy with virtual travel in about 20 year’s time. But, it is a very good way to absorb the beauty and detail of the work of Michelangelo in a way that you could never do, even by visiting the Sistine Chapel.

With this virtual tour, you have no other visitors to contend with.   Your neck won’t start to ache from constantly looking up at the ceiling.  There is no waiting to get in.  And, you can be there and back with the click of a mouse, instantly.  No airline, no rental car, no hotel required. And best of all, no expense.

Consider this another one of the “baby steps” to virtual travel that I spoke about in my last BLOG before the holidays overtook us.

Great example from reader on baby steps Virtual Travel is already taking!

I got feedback from a reader of my Virtual Travel book. Though I do address this in the book, I probably should have taken it further.  Here’s their very insightful suggestion:

“I really think that adding something about the younger generation and their increasing level of comfort with “virtual” things in general is really going to expedite this revolution and I believe it will lower the barrier to entry. I believe that is something you might want to use in your lectures on the matter. I will share with you a story about a long distance relationship where the woman is a few cities over from me in Europe. While we can see each other every couple of weekends, we video chat on skype generally nightly and we interact throughout the day if we see something interesting we take a snap with our smart phones, add a short caption and shoot it off on email. Like snow in the square in Paris, etc. Even though we are apart, it allows us to share those life experiences as though we were there. Now, I’m gen X, not gen Y, like she is, so I’m a little slower on the uptake, and I’ve never tried this before, but its amazing… its leaps and bounds above what you can do via phone and email alone.”

I thank this reader for this excellent example!  I hope others will share as well.

That’s it for this week. Short and sweet. I wish you all a very happy, healthy and safe holiday season and a great 2011!

Virtual Travel Impact on Architecture and Contruction

Last week I talked about how the evolution of virtual travel would likely affect the travel industry.  But, it’s not just the travel industry that will need to learn and change.  So will the architecture and construction industry and a number of others.   The way commercial real estate and even residences are designed will need to be completely re-thought.  Take the special case of hotels and how they are presently designed.  There are many sleeping rooms, significant conference  space, restaurant capacity, catering capacity, etc.

In the future, if a much larger number of people travel virtually to meetings, fewer sleeping rooms and square feet of traditional conference space will be needed.  Ditto the number of meals in hotel restaurants or in event spaces by catering.  If more knowledge workers can use virtual travel technology to be completely effective without going into their employer’s locations, then those companies will require fewer “physical” offices, cubicles and traditional meeting rooms.  The lessee’s of these large commercial buildings will begin to see tenants reduce their demands for physical space with each renewal of their leases.  As new buildings are designed and developed, they will need to be smarter, smaller, and more flexible.  At some point the only buildings that will need to have the workers show up physically is for things like manufacturing, converting raw materials into finished materials, and the like.  But, the knowledge workers, i.e., the white-collar workers, will very rarely have to make a trip into an office.  This will not be the same thing as today’s attempts at telecommuting.

Although even with today’s basic technology, telecommuting is making an impact for some businesses bottom line, even though to date, there is no discernible reaction by the architecture and construction industry, aside from a smattering of telepresence studios in the most forward thinking corporations.  For the longer term as virtual reality technology matures, knowledge workers will be able to collaborate with as many of their colleagues, customers and suppliers as they wish by using the same technology will provide an “as if you were there” business travel experience without leaving your home town.  This will be a game-changer for a far broader and deeper set of industries and businesses than one might think.

Ask yourself the question, would you physically commute to work if you could work from a location within a short walk or even from home (eventually) and have a more productive, rewarding experience than if you physically traveled?  I know what my answer would be.

Where will the travel industry be in 20 years?

Since I wrote my virtual travel book, I’ve been asked many times where I see the travel industry in 20 years. Though detailed predictions that far in the future are difficult to make, I do go into quite a bit of detail in the book.

And, it’s too much for a blog, or even a series of blogs. So, here, I’ll focus on the major transport aspects of travel, i.e., airlines, rental cars, and public ground transport. I’ll go into hotels, as well as architecture and construction in my next blog.

As virtual travel takes hold, I believe that in 20 years, the available market for traditional passenger travel by airlines, rental cars, and public ground transportation will be smaller, possibly significantly smaller, despite continuing population growth.

• There will be a clearly discernable and possibly significant reduction in the number of airline passengers.
• Airlines savvy enough to adapt will increase “non-human passengers”(i.e., freight) to take up some, though certainly not all of the slack.
• There will be a reduction in the number of flights, airlift capacity, number of employees and other aspects of their operations.
• Airline revenues will be down, and profitability will almost certainly continue to elude them all.
• This will have a domino effect on the aircraft manufacturing industry.
• Fewer departing passengers will mean fewer arriving passenger to rent cars. Local car rentals will not make up the deficit.
• As with the airlines, rental car companies will have reduced the size of their fleets, number of employees and other aspects of their operations.
• Rental Car company revenues and profits will be down, although profitability might continue to a point as they downsize.
• This will have a domino effect on the automobile industry.
• Local mass transit will have seen a ridership reduction
• The same will be true for taxis, buses, and other forms of ground transportation
• Public Ground Transportation revenue and profits, or contribution to profits will also be down.

Finally, and alarmingly for these industries, the trend will continue downward from the 20-year mark.

In the book, I think I make a logical case for these basic predictions.  Although all of you are certainly free to disagree. Check it out if you are a doubter, or if you’d like to get more rationale.  And please, let me know what you think!

My experience at Marriott – the seeds of my Virtual Travel conviction

The seeds of my conviction that virtual travel will become a reality within many of our lifetimes came from my time as Chief Technology Officer at Marriott International, Inc.

I feel it will start with business travel, simply because it will be easier to completely satisfy business travel requirements virtually. The reasons for business travel relate to lots of different roles, such as sales, marketing, training, collaboration, joint decision-making, knowledge transfer, and many others. Travel associated with these roles, unlike leisure travel, can be effectively performed if just 2 of the 5 senses are effectively stimulated by the virtual business meeting offering: sound and vision. If the virtual experience gets these 2 things right, with such fidelity that the participants in these meetings feel they have not compromised anything by avoiding physical travel, then it would make little sense for them to actually take the trip.

Technology that is frequently referenced as TelePresence (a term coined by Cisco Systems) is pretty much delivering this kind of experience today. Let’s call it virtual business collaboration technology. Multiple companies, including but not limited to Cisco and Hewlett Packard provide it. It is not some futuristic vision that has not yet been achieved. It is here now, and it is a stellar experience.

As CTO of Marriott, I felt that our company needed to embrace this technology, because it would eventually replace the need for in-person collaborative business meetings. Within the hotel industry, Marriott was on the cutting edge by creating a few public access virtual business meeting studios in selected hotels over five years ago, and have increased the number since.

In recent years, the technology has also penetrated more densely into public access building, such as hotels and airports. Concurrently, businesses have been installing virtual business collaboration technology and using to dramatically curtail physical travel. These companies and their employees are getting used to it, and they like it.

Because of their investment in this technology, they will continue to use it even as the economy recovers. So, it is unlikely that small, interactive business meetings in hotels and conference centers will come back to levels the travel industry enjoyed before the downturn. These companies will have to adjust. And when virtual leisure travel hits within the next 20-30 years, small adjustments to the travel industry business model will no longer be a survival option.

Top 10 places to travel virtually

In working with my publicist, they suggested I write a blog on this topic.  Sadly, there are precious few websites and companies offering virtual travel experiences yet.  In my recently published book, I predict this will change dramatically within the next 20 years or so.

But, for now, when you search the web for “virtual travel”, you get websites that really do not offer virtual travel experiences.  Rather, most often, they offer travel agent services for a traditional trip.  On another site an individual who loves planning trips, offers to plan your trip for a fee between $2.00 and $20.00 depending on how many days the trip will be.  Still another shows little thumbnail video clips of scenery from a train trip on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  The train videos are as close as any of these comes to delivering a “virtual trip” that I have been able to find.  But, it is light years away from the virtual travel experience I envision.

Because applying virtual reality technology to travel is going to be a complex, long-term proposition, it is not surprising that true virtual travel trips are not yet “packaged up” and “productized” for sale, in the same way purely physical trips are these days.  But, it will happen.  When it does, there will be a truly viable alternative to the hassles of “getting there”, and the virtual traveler will be able to experience great destinations without ever leaving their hometown.

With this as background, here is my Top 10 “wish list” for a virtual travel experience, once the technology and content have matured:

  • Florence
  • Katmandu
  • London
  • Montreal
  • New York
  • Paris
  • Seoul
  • Sydney
  • Tokyo
  • Vienna

So, come on hotel and transportation companies!  Start teaming with companies in the high tech, electronic games, and movie industries to put together these virtual trips.

If you haven’t yet, please check out my book – Virtual Travel: Embrace or Expire – for more information on what this exciting new capability has in store for us.  And please, post a comment below or a review of the book. I would love to hear from you.

Be there. Without actually being there.

Virtual travel is actually having the experience of traveling to a destination (whether near or far) without physically traveling.  In other words, you would experience the destination as if you were there, but without being there.

At the outset, I ask: If you could have a travel experience and couldn’t distinguish whether you were physically there or not, would you insist on physically being there?

I believe that we will have such a choice to make in less than 10 years for business travel and somewhere between 20 and 30 years for a full-fledged leisure travel experience.

When I chat with people about this, they say, “Of course, I would still want to go.” When I ask why, they say, “Well, I want to really experience the place, the people, the sights, the sounds.” They say they really want to “be there.” They also say it wouldn’t be the same if they were not physically at the destination.

But if I persist, and repeat: What if you could really experience it, complete with sights, smells, touch, interaction with people and places? I don’t mean experience it like watching a movie or a television program.  I mean experience it as if you were really there—in the movie—where your five senses actually tell you that you are there?

Let’s just assume that such a realistic experience will be possible and affordable at some point.  Given that, I wonder about the potential impact this capability will have on how we all live and work.

This impact on the physical world, including businesses and individuals, are the primary focus of my book Virtual Travel: Embrace or Expire.  The physical world, both natural and as constructed and maintained by humans, will be fundamentally changed when people no longer have to physically travel to have a real travel experience, either to accomplish work or to “get away from it all” for leisure.

When this happens, I believe large chunks of today’s physical world and its products and services will be bypassed.  When they are, if the businesses that deliver these products and services do not adapt, they will wither and die.  At the same time, incredible opportunities await existing businesses, industries, and individuals that adapt and grow as these radical changes occur.

What do you think will happen?  I would love to hear from you!