The tourism industry is changing significantly as information technology is becoming more and more part of it. Information technology has a critical influence on making tourism businesses more competitive, as it provides the tools that a tourism business needs to improve their marketing and management (Buhalis, O´Connor, 2005.). Information technology has changed the way tourism businesses work as it has improved the efficiency of tourism organizations, the marketplace and how the consumers interact with the organizations (Buhalis, Law, 2008).
What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented Reality (AR) is an enhanced version of the real world that is achieved using digital visual elements, sounds and other sensory stimuli delivered by technology (Hayes, 2022). It was invented by researcher Tom Caudell from Boeing in 1990 (Mekni, Lemieux, 2014). Carmignini and Fuhrt (2011, p. 3) define AR as a “real-time direct or indirect view of physical real-world environment that has been augmented by adding virtual computer-generated information”. According to Azuma (1997) AR enables users to see the real world, with virtual objects composited with the real world. AR is currently used in many different technology fields, such as medicine, education, and simulated training (Kounavis, Kasimati, 2012).
As AR seems to enhance the customer experience in a unique way, it also brings some concerns and suspicions with it. AR has been seen to have some negative psychological effects for its users, since it can be addictive and even seen to cause violence. People who play violent games through AR can have behavioral issues and distorted images of violence in real-life. In addition to the psychological effects, AR is also expensive. Because of this, not all companies are capable of investing in this kind of technology and only large organizations have the upper hand (Acharya, 2021.).
Augmented Reality in the Tourism Industry
AR is used in the tourism industry to improve the customer experience. AR can enhance the tourists to access valuable information and improve their knowledge on the tourist attraction or destination, while making the customer experience more memorable. AR provides more personal and tailored content for the users to experience while traveling (Kounavis, Kasimati, 2012.). The increase in these technologies has changed the tourist and travel behavior by reforming the way tourists search for information, make decisions, buy products and services and explore reviews (Granmer, Dieck, Fountoulaki, 2020).
AR provides endless possibilities and activities for tourists. It enables visitors to get information about the place, its monuments, buildings, museums, among other options through technology (Romero, 2022). AR can be used through smartphones easily. You just download an app to your smartphone, and you are set to experience the augmented reality through your camera. With AR tourists can visualize virtual elements on top of the real elements, moving to mixed reality (Romero, 2022.). Even though AR is digital information added to the real- world environment, it can also arouse different senses like sound, smell, taste, and touch (Loijens, Brohm, Domurath, 2017).
AR has also benefits for the companies using it. AR has been proven to enhance the customer experience, and it creates business benefits such as secure additional source of revenue and decreases in seasonality (Granmerk, Dieck, Fountoulaki, 2020). The main potential in AR according to Granmer, Dieck and Fountoulaki (2020) is seen in the pre-booking, information gathering and on-site experience.
How is AR utilized in different tourism businesses
As I have noted, AR is an important tool in the tourism industry. It enables tourists to experience a destination in a completely new way. The application of AR can maximize the experience and level of entertainment a tourist experiences. It also maximizes the information and knowledge a tourist can get from a destination (Cranmer, Dieck, Fountoulaki, 2022.). According to Faizan (2022) previous studies done about AR is mostly focused on the technology and adaptation itself, rather than focusing on the way it enhances the customer experience. As a matter of fact, that is something I wanted to focus on in this post, as AR is a new technology used in the tourism industry and I believe it has great potential.
Now, to talk about the utilization of AR in tourism businesses. AR is not commonly used in the spa and wellness concept, but it has been used in different tourism fields, such as museums and restaurants. Different museums use AR as part of their experience. Museums use AR to give more information about the pieces they are examining with the help of AR. In June 2021, the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle located in Paris, created an AR experience for their customers. This experience lets visitors to come face-to-face with animals that are extinct in the real-world. Also, In the National Museum of Singapore has been presented an exhibition that provides historical drawings in 3D that customers can interact with. The visitors only download an app and use their own smartphone to explore the 3D- drawings (Coates, 2022.).
In restaurants AR is also used to enhance the customer experience. For example, with the help of AR restaurants can make virtual menus for customers. AR enables the menu to come to life when scanned with a smartphone. A Mexican restaurant group Wahaca was the first company to use AR menus in their services. Wahaca replaced their paper menus to virtual menus that can be opened with a QR- Code what triggers an AR experience. AR can also be used without a smartphone. La Petite Chef– is an experience that has entertained visitors worldwide. The experience uses a thumb-sized chef that prepares food through 3D projection mapping. You can watch the tiny virtual chef make food for you (Ferrandez, 2021.).
As can be seen, AR seems to enhance the customer experience in different tourism companies. It makes me wonder why it is not used in the spa and wellness businesses? I believe that it has great potential, that should be utilized in spas also. For example, in the future a spa experience could be held in a completely blank room, where customers could open a view/environment they desire through AR. If a customer wishes to be in a forestry environment, they can open the forest in front of them with the help of AR and at the same time enjoy the relaxing spa experience. This would arouse customers’ different senses and enable them to experience relaxation on a completely new level. This same technology is used in the other fields, so why not utilize it in spas also.
According to Spa Executive (2021), Vilmorin (2022) and Nelson (2022) technology will be a significant factor in the future of spa development. Technology will continue to change the way customers experience and view spa services. Dauverne (2018) argues that augmented reality could reduce the need to travel abroad, and this way reduce individuals carbon footprint. In 10 years’ time, the spa experience will be very different to what it is today, and technology will be one of the main factors paving the way for change and I am here for it.
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