Not so long ago, I was sitting in on a virtual ideation workshop about unlocking the value of the metaverse and NFTs for small brands in the fashion industry when something caught my eye: a pair of stunning earrings worn by the guest speaker. Given that she’s a jewelry designer, I wasn’t too surprised that she had fantastic style. But here’s the kicker: the earrings weren’t real. They were a digital accessory overlay—similar to a Snapchat or Instagram filter—just one of many virtual goods added to her physical retail line as an NFT.  

These digital earrings looked sharp and had a secret weapon: metrics. She could measure the hours that her customers were wearing these earrings during calls, providing valuable data about her customers’ habits to inspire future product releases that she wouldn’t otherwise have from the sales of her physical goods. This is just a glimpse of the possibilities for retail and NFTs within the metaverse. 

As discussions unfold surrounding the future of the Web3 technologies, companies are beginning to reimagine the ways people buy products and services using gamification and AR—including how travel, aviation, and hospitality industries can tap in. Not only will this change the way people make purchasing decisions, but also how customers interact with a brand and the development of new revenue streams.  

Taking off with the metaverse 

The Metaverse Continuum leads Accenture’s annual Technology Vision report as the next defining moment of business across all industries—including Travel.  

Building upon the technological advancements from the Internet of Data dot-com boom of the ’90s, social media-driven Internet of People in the 2000s and rise of Internet of Things in 2010s, the metaverse is the next wave that will be defined as the Internet of Place (shared virtual experiences) and Internet of Ownership (verifiable digital identities). Think: digitally enhanced worlds, realities and business models impacting every individual across the supply chain, from 2D to 3D; and from cloud and AI to extended reality, blockchain, digital twins, edge technologies and beyond.  

While gaming industries and forward-thinking brands have tapped into this technology as early adopters, the opportunities for companies to generate breakthrough value for stakeholders and the business are limitless. Nascent revenue streams like NFTs and blockchain are forces that can no longer be ignored, even by industries that operate primarily in the physical world such as Travel—up until now.  

Now is the time for travel companies to adapt to the next evolution of digital transformation that will change every facet of business, from the customer experience, how work is done, what products and services companies make and distribute, and how they operate their organizations. 

Flying high with Web3 

Imagine that you are on a long flight, with more than enough hours to spare, when you come across your airline’s new duty-free metaverse shop. Inside, you’ll find all the same great products typically featured in its in-flight magazine, but now with the option to try on high-end accessories or makeup you’d typically find in a brick-and-mortar store. You could then purchase the desired items, knowing they would be a good fit, and they could be waiting at your arrival gate, at your destination, or delivered as a gift to friends to thank them after a visit.  

Airlines are already beginning to test drive the metaverse in search of new revenue streams and opportunities to enhance the customer experience—and spaces like duty-free are wide-open for the taking. Imagine offering your customers the opportunity to vote on product changes before making investment decisions or using data collected to phase out less popular offerings.  

Among the airline operators experimenting with Metaverse technologies, Air New Zealand ran a test on a flight where they used Microsoft’s HoloLens to enhance passengers’ in-flight experience. Using the HoloLens headset, the cabin crew could access key customer information – such as a passenger’s choice of meal, drinks, onward travel plans, and even their emotions. And these are all capabilities that were developed pre-pandemic.  

Qatar Airways launched a virtual reality (VR) website experience called QVerse, where you can now take virtual tours of cabin interiors the Qsuite business class, and premium check-in area at Hamad International Airport. Not only does this help travelers choose the right airplane seat to fit their needs, but it’s also an opportunity for airlines to generate more revenue. Touring the comforts of the QSuite premium cabin in advance may inspire some customers to spend more upgrading to business class to experience luxury amenities they might have otherwise overlooked.  

Rooms with a VR view 

Before booking a hotel room, why not take a 360-tour of a few different options? Metaverse Hospitality (MH) is working to blend the travel experience within the virtual realm as the leading company onboarding hotels and restaurants to Web3 technology. The brand released NFTs in June that extends beyond the Metaverse to provide tangible awards and perks in the real world. 

Hotel Riu Plaza España in Madrid has opened its doors in the metaverse, combining reality and digital recreation in AltSpace. Customers will be able to visit and interact with several areas of the hotel, taking in details of its iconic architecture and sweeping views from the rooftop—with a hidden prize for the first visitors. Not only does this allow travelers to experience the property before a prospective visit, but it allows the brand to leverage technology as a pioneer in future travel.  

Curb your skepticism 

Sure, luxury hotel NFT reservations and NFT focused coffee shops sound cool, but what does this mean for the bottom line? Can it really transform your business, and if so, how? Is this just hype or something here to stay? 

Here are three ways travel, hospitality, and aviation companies are finding value by making their mark in the metaverse: 

  • Visibility and brand presence – Major airlines are investing in the metaverse to build their brand presence and experience. Qantas will be the first to offer loyalty points to the initial buyer of a Qantas NFT for the airline's frequent flyer program, while Air Europa is launching the world’s first NFT flight ticket series, called “NFTickets.”  
  • Purchasing experienceCarnival Cruise Line makes its foray into the metaverse with plans to offer NFTs, entertainment, an online marketplace for buyers and sellers of digital goods, and retail store services featuring virtual goods. The company will also offer Travel agency services that enable reservations and bookings in virtual worlds.  
  • New revenue streams - Latvian flag carrier airBaltic is world's first airline to offer limited NFTs of an Airbus A220-300 along with unique pieces of art promoting Latvian towns and cities. Luxury Venetian hotel Ca’ Di Dio and parent company VRetreat auctioned an exclusive first night in the property via NFT on the peer-to-peer online platform OpenSea.  

The bottom line 

As with all innovative technology, it is natural for C-level executives to raise an eyebrow and question its value. Overall, most travel executives have a favorable impression, with 53% of those surveyed as part of our annual Accenture Technology Vision report stating that the metaverse will have a positive impact on their organizations, and 25% expect a breakthrough or transformational impact. And there is near unanimous agreement among 94% of Executives that Web3 will fundamentally change how businesses engage with users online over the next decade. But those who wait may miss their opportunity to catch up with the learning curve that can cost more in the long run.  

Look beyond travel to discover value pools and opportunities from how other industries are diving into the metaverse today. For example, Retail industries have been successful in this space and have examples that could be relevant to your business. Assess how your company has typically approached transformation in the past. Is your organization a leader, an early adopter or simply an observer?  

Embrace the change. Think big, start small, scale fast. Consider how high you want to reach, start with steady, small steps to navigate the unknown, then build on top of the learnings and foundations to scale up quickly. Dare to be bold, the landscape is changing faster than ever, and you cannot afford to be left behind. 

Haritini Kyriakou

Senior Manager – Strategy & Consulting - Growth Markets, Travel Industry NFTs

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