Future of Tourism Series | Guest Blog
By Andreas Weissenborn
I wish we knew the exact hill to look over as to how this year would end.
I spend much of my time searching over hills to find the right vantage point; in a sense, it keeps me up at night.
I believe what is written below is a closer horizon than we may think and I encourage you to widen your gaze and observe this shifting landscape.
Prior to 2020, defining a destination implied a physical place worth traveling to or an extended visit. This is part of our namesake as destination organizations. In simple terms we are organizations that represent a physical place, for the most part.
As part of this great interruption, I believe what we have traditionally referred to as a destination is noticeably moving away from simply being an entirely physical manifestation into one that can exist also in a virtual realm.
What happens next, when our definition of what a destination has expanded, and tourism can represent both its physical and virtual entities of brand, place, and relevance?
It may or may not come as a surprise that there are destinations out there, wildly successful destinations, that are completely virtual – no bricks and mortar, no dot on a map.
There are lessons to be learned from the virtual destinations like Fortnite and electronic gaming that we should heed.
But first, a little recap of how we got here in the context of digital communication…
*Fortnite – Just visiting family and friends.
How does one transition between a virtual and physical construct of a destination? Enter, the internet. While it is clearly not necessary to explain what the internet is, it is worth breaking down key phases of the internet since its inception.
This would largely be considered the birth of the internet, then known in the early sixties as ARPAnet. The impotence being a technology needed as a communication amongst devices.
- Learning to walk
With the inception of the world wide web, a web browser, and standards to follow, we can see this phase as the development of both the navigation and commerce components of the internet, respectively.
- Starting to run
The rise of social media began in the early 00s, and for most, their beginnings with social media is MySpace. MySpace, and later platforms such as Facebook and Frienster allowed us to begin to use the internet to voice and gather public opinion. Our fundamental definition of a public sphere has now been entirely redrawn through a tweet, a story, or a post on a social media channel.
- Hitting our stride
We have seen discussion surrounding the pandemic and its influence on the compression of time. The pivot to online learning, working, and frankly, living, all were guideposts that society was moving towards, but ultimately put on warp speed with COVID-19. With this, the pandemic has also brought about our next phase of the internet, which is that the internet has now become a place or retreat to visit for leisure, experience or to simply hangout. It has in fact itself become a destination.
Let us examine two instances during this pandemic which illustrate this new phase:
The video games industry has been one of the largest influences of adoption of new technologies into the consumer world. From storage, to delivery and experience, video games have been pushing innovation down to our couches over the past 40 years. Fortnite is one such video game that is having a moment, to the tune of a 250 million user base. Suffice it to say, Fortnite is a pop culture phenom that cannot be overstated.
One traditionally enters the Fortnite world to play the game either solo or with a group of friends. This spring however, Fortnite tried something never done before in a video game – they held a live event. Travis Scott, the Grammy nominated rapper, held a live concert exclusively within the Fortnite world. Players would login to to watch Travis perform instead of playing the game. During this event, Fortnite itself was a destination for our avatars to take part in a live entertainment event in the same way that we have traditionally traveled somewhere in the physical world to do the exact same thing. The event saw more than 12 million people ‘visiting,’ and Fornite has gone on to host more live shows within the virtual destination.
Once reserved for bars, meeting through friends, or social (in-person) hobbies, online dating has become a large mechanism for how we choose to meet a potential partner. Before the pandemic, online dating was always a means to the end of meeting someone, serving as a very transactional destination to get potential matches engaged, to then continue onto the physical world. What then happens if the physical world is currently under quarantine? In early summer, Tinder, one of the largest online dating platforms, began offering video chat features within the platform itself, dubbed Face to Face. At the time, the CEO gave an interview describing what is this next phase of the internet, in which Tinder is no longer a means to the end, but the actual destination itself to date.
"I’ll actually give you an interesting anecdote here. We do a lot of talking to our young members and in one of the conversations, we kept referring to like “IRL, IRL, IRL” — in real life. One of the members we were talking to said, “You guys keep talking about digital experience and then IRL, as if IRL, the physical world is my real life. You don’t understand, my digital social experience is my real life. They’re both my real life.”
I think it is a rather profound realization that something as intimate as meeting your life partner could exist in the virtual world up until the point of marriage is a paradigm shift in the human condition.
In both of these examples, the lines between what is a destination, virtual and physical has begun to blur, and if we now consider a destination to exist in both realms, what does that mean then for us?
In closing, regardless of where and when, destination organizations will still be competing on the world stage for attention, be it from competition from other destinations virtual or physical. From this, we may see new roles and departments such as a digital transcendence officer or virtual experience manager. Instead of SEO optimization, we might develop our own smart assistants representing our destination, of which we are the custodian of its knowledge and expertise within.
It is our historical skill at sharing a place with the rest of the word, combined with our ongoing work on stakeholder engagement and creating community value and relevance, that will help us align both the physical and virtual realms to move and inspire visitors and residents alike
This change shouldn’t frighten us, as we are uniquely qualified to handle and excel in this transition. Our lessons in community engagement, stakeholder captivation, and the wonder of placemaking will transcend through both physical and virtual realms in this next normal.
Andreas Weissenborn Senior Director of Research & Advocacy of Destinations International
Introduced to the world of destination organizations by a random internship application to Visit Baltimore (then known as Baltimore Area Convention & Visitors Association), Andreas Weissenborn began an unexpected career into hospitality that left him with a continued passion towards the tourism industry.
Weissenborn spent just short of 11 years with Visit Baltimore helping with its Research, Technology, and Information Systems across the organization. In 2017, he joined the Association on behalf of a Destinations International Foundation initiative to be a dedicated research source for Destinations International.