Due to its nature, travel has historically been a luxury for the physically and mentally able. Though there has been progress in making travel accessible for all, the problem remains — particularly in further flung locales. While there will never be a replacement for actually going somewhere, Virtual Reality is already allowing people the chance to explore the world for the first time. In fact, one of the most heartening advancements in the technology has been its application within the disabled community.
Fully immersive VR can take the viewer anywhere in the world and show them places outside their homes (or hospital rooms, in the case of the ill or infirm). This is proving to be not only enlightening and entertaining but therapeutic as well. Kim Lawther studies these advancements as an assistive technologist at Scope — which aims to make the lives of people living with disabilities fuller and less confined. Lawther reported in a HuffPost article that “Experiences like [VR] will massively improve young disabled people’s self-esteem and give them the confidence to engage in basic everyday activities.”
In short: VR is letting people who didn’t have the resources or ability to travel to get out there and see the world. This is turn is proving to be a therapeutic positive on their lives — consistent with general findings about how travel impacts human happiness.
While VR travel is helping the disabled community see and experience the world in new ways, it’s also helping the travel industry lure you into your next adventure, using the exact same media it uses within the disabled community.
VR experiences of surfing in Bali are being used to help muscular dystrophy patients surf for the first time and sell a would-be wanderluster on that IRL experience. So far, the numbers show that the average tourist or traveler is spending more money and taking more trips when they’ve been able to experience a destination, hotel, resort, climb, or surf in VR first.
This isn’t that crazy — movies have trailers, restaurants have Instagram, now travel has VR. The tourism industry is reporting a 190 percent increase in bookings since the advent and adoption of VR into their models. That’s not insignificant and likely to only grow and eventually become the norm across the board, as VR becomes a bigger and more natural part of the human experience. Plus, that extra travel means more money being infused into local economies where those travelers are going. Again, win-win.