Definitions of the metaverse differ, but a commonly held view is that a true metaverse – one that’s perhaps decentralized, ungoverned, universal and in which anyone can interact with anyone – is probably still years away.
Still, some travel and hospital companies are beginning to dabble in the platforms that offer virtual, interactive experience to customers. They are getting in on the ground floor while the metaverse is in its nascent form.
Hotel company Leven purchased its first property in the metaverse using virtual currency, and unveiled it last year. Located in the “fashion district” of virtual world Decentraland, the “Levenverse” is “a fantastical space” that wasn’t bound by most real-world limitations, says Timothy Griffin, co-founder of Leven and principal at Wellbrook Hospitality.
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“Interestingly, there are some restrictions that we had to adhere to. For example, there are rules within the metaverse around air rights as there are in the real world. So our building is three stories high,” Griffin says.
Users can opt to play for free as a guest in Decentraland. Similar to a gaming experience, users can teleport their avatar around Decentraland or wander through areas they want to explore. Leven’s coordinates are -123,-93. Visitors are greeted by an avatar in the lobby - they can ask questions and the avatar will respond.
Designed by an architect, the virtual hotel is “rich and organic. It doesn’t have any hard edges. It’s a very curved, almost seductive building” that incorporates nature and botanicals into its design, according to Griffin.
And they had fun creating it, he adds. For example, the elevator is a blimp: “You wait for it to go down, and then it floats up the exterior of the building and takes you up to the different floors.”
There are challenges that come with being an early adopter of what is essentially a prototype of the metaverse of the future.
“There isn’t a widespread understanding of what the space means for users and consumers at this time. So we experience a lot of questions around what type of purpose does a hotel brand have within the metaverse,” Griffin says.
“Truly speaking the metaverse is still quite analog in terms of its design and its user experience. So it still has some way to develop until it can be true to form to the illustrations that a lot of brands share publicly with their visions for their businesses within those spaces.”
While retail brands can easily generate revenue from v-commerce (virtual commerce), Griffin views v-commerce opportunities as a “miniscule” part of his ambitions for the Levenverse.
“We really wanted to create the space as a virtual amenity space for our guests. So it’s not really a revenue generating exercise for us,” he says. Rather, it’s “an investment in the brand.”
The idea is for people to connect socially within the Levenverse. The company is developing event programming for 2023 that will happen both in the physical Manchester property and in the metaverse. Leven is currently partnering with “high-profile fitness gurus” who will give talks that would be offered for free in the metaverse.
“A key pillar for us … has been ensuring that the virtual world reflects the real world and that there isn’t a disconnect there. So any events that we do, we will ensure that there is a connection to the real-world hotel experience as well.”
Griffin encourages other travel and hospitality brands to join in exploring opportunities in the metaverse. Because it’s in its early days, brands can grow their own business while growing the metaverse, Griffin says.
Curtis Crimmins, founder of Roomza, says what exists now is “more like a 3D cross-world interaction game. It’s more akin to a video game than a true metaverse.
What can [the metaverse] look like when the technology is there? What does this feel like when we do have this quantum computing that makes this truly possible?
Curtis Crimmins - Roomza
“I believe that what a lot of hotel companies are doing - viewing it as a marketing spend, viewing it as an expression of their brand identity - is the first step. But I don’t know that that is money well spent,” Crimmins says.
“Nobody is going to book a room in the metaverse - pay and sleep. What is the point of it?”
Despite the metaverse being in its “infancy,” Crimmins says he is a firm believer in the future of metaverse and he is excited about the possibilities. The Roomza metaverse is on the Unity platform.
The hotel company plans to open its first physical hotel this spring in Chicago, followed by one in New York. Within the first year of operating, Crimmins envisions the following use for the metaverse:
“You will be able to [virtually] walk through one of our hotels with a headset or AR/VR glasses - through each floor, go into each room - and then actually transact and book that room for your dates in a floating UI cluster that’s right in front of your face.
“So you’re standing in the room. You see the actual real view. ... You say, gosh, I love this. I want to see if it’s available for October 10th. It is. You pay right there, and then the room is yours.”
Crimmins also foresees personalization happening through the metaverse, as guests select their preferences for hair-care products for their hair texture and decaf versus caffeinated coffee, for example.
“We want to use the metaverse to bridge broken trust in travel... You know better than to trust a hotel photo.”
Crimmins says he believes the true metaverse will one day transform travel and be a force for a good. For example, he envisions that it will connect people, give poor people the chance to travel the world and enable trans travelers to adopt an avatar that reflects their identity.
According to Crimmins: “We have to detach ourselves from today, and we have to allow ourselves to future-cast a little bit. What can this look like when the technology is there? What does this feel like when we do have this quantum computing that makes this truly possible? Let’s not get bogged down into what we’re missing today. Let’s start talking about the building blocks that we have and what we can make out of it.”
In May, Vueling partnered with micromobility platform Iomob, in combination with NextEarth, on how to enhance the customer experience within the platform and offer NextEarth customers the possibility to book flights within the metaverse, says Jesus Maria Monzo Faubel, distribution strategy and alliances manager for Vueling.
“You are able to see all the different segments of your journey,” such as the London underground and the airport terminal, in virtual reality, Monzo Faubel says.
Vueling aimed to launch its metaverse in 2023 after working on it for part of 2022.
“We were very excited about the possibilities and opportunities,” he says. But innovation, such as in the metaverse, has since been put on hold due to the economic downturn. Monzo Faubel expects development to resume eventually, but he doesn’t know when.
“We want to take advantage of the huge customer base that this metaverse platform has. We want to be able to push the bookings through that platform,” Monzo Faubel says. “Our intention was to be a first mover of those platforms.”
Metaverse and Web3 consultant Steve Bambury recently said now is the time for travel brands to make moves toward creating a presence in the metaverse – or risk getting left behind.
And the Madrid Marriott Auditorium Hotel and Conference Center has partnered with RendezVerse, a new brand from London-based Worldwide Events, to develop “digital twins” – virtual, three-dimensional replicas - of his hotel and conference center that will eventually live in the metaverse.