Could 360-Degree Virtual Tours Soon Overtake In-Person Holidays?

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In an era where technological advances and innovations continue to transform the way we live our lives, 360-degree virtual tourism looks set to redefine how we enjoy our holidays.

The concept of immersive virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) tours at iconic tourist attractions such as museums, art galleries, and national parks certainly isn’t new.

However, COVID’s initial stranglehold on international and domestic in-person travel seemingly ignited its accelerated adoption.

Undoubtedly, several factors are helping to drive its increasing inclusion across the travel sector. For instance, people’s desire to avoid crowded tourist hot spots in the post-pandemic era, coupled with the rising cost of living and increasing fuel prices, have likely made virtual tourism a distinctly appealing alternative.

Techopedia explores an industry experiencing massive growth and whether it will stretch the definition of tourism in years to come — a journey that begins now.

Key Takeaways

  • The virtual tours market is expected to grow from $0.96 billion in 2023 to $17.88 billion by 2035.
  • Innovations such as 360-degree 12k cameras, VR headsets, and drones are enhancing the quality of virtual tours.
  • Virtual tours offer a try-before-you-buy experience to drive in-person visitor numbers.

It is not solely the tourism sector reaping the rewards of the rising popularity of online tours; rather, the entire “Virtual Tour Market” is flourishing.


So much so that a recent report published by Allied Market Research calculated that the industry – which was valued at $0.96 billion in 2023 – is expected to rocket to $17.88 billion by 2035.

While this extends to other industries, including real estate, surveying, and mapping firms, the tourism segment is predicted to dominate the lion’s share of this market.

The benefits of technologies, including 360-degree 12k high-definition cameras, drones, and VR headsets, fuel the quality of the tours on offer.  

The Evolutionary Rise of Virtual Tours

According to Jay Scott-Nicholls, Creative Director at Circus, a pioneering firm in virtual experiences:

“At the World Travel Market in London in 2018, you could count on one hand the number of countries using virtual reality (VR) to promote their destinations. In 2023, nearly a third of the exhibitors had some kind of immersive experience.”

It’s not surprising, given how powerful a marketing tool a virtual tour can be.

The instant ability to invite millions of people from every corner of the world to visit and take part interactively without the pitfalls of overcrowding is immense. Destinations like African safari parks, historic tourist attractions including London Bridge, or even real-time events all have access to tourists via their phones, laptops, and VR headsets… forget influencers; virtual tours are now a marketer’s golden ticket.

Jay, whose Circus clients include Google, Red Bull, and English Heritage, explains:

“Any brand with a dispersed international customer base has a problem: Doing things in-person is the most impactful way to deliver a memorable experience, but it’s expensive and not scalable. Online, by contrast, is scalable, but websites don’t have the same impact.”

However, having just completed a bespoke 360 virtual tour of London’s Big Ben to celebrate the completion of its £80m renovation, he was keen to illustrate how VR and AR virtual tours offer clients “the best of both worlds, with well-made, richly-layered, immersive and interactive experiences.”

It’s hard to deny that the confinement of nationwide lockdowns during the pandemic ultimately raised awareness of the tangible benefits of the virtual world – partly driven by metaverse flag bearer Mark Zuckerberg. And, while we can now roam freely post-COVID, it introduced a new way for people to visit overcrowded tourist hot spots sans everyone else.

When you combine that with the continual innovative developments of VR/ AR technologies and faster global broadband speeds, the realms of possibility are literally unlimited.

Virtual Tours: The Future of Travel?

Let’s be honest: laying beneath a swaying palm tree on a sun-kissed beach as the turquoise waters lap at your feet will always supersede any virtual experience sitting in your living room on a rainy day.

Well, perhaps the sunburn, mosquitos, and the rum punch hangovers might dissuade some, but it’s safe to say in-person holidays aren’t likely to disappear anytime soon.

Yet, there isn’t any doubt virtual tours will change consumer behaviours.

For starters, existing travel agencies, tour operators, and hotels and resorts have rapidly identified virtual tours marketing potential. Whereas magazines and photo-laden websites have always been the traditional tools of choice to entice travellers to purchase holidays… nowadays, virtual tours offer a unique try-before-you-buy experience unlike no other.

Examples of this could be artificial intelligence-powered virtual guides allowing users to explore the facilities of a resort or holiday destination – all while having the experience narrated in various languages and even receiving real-time responses to any questions.

Alternatively, tourists can step virtually into a zoo enclosure to get a closer view of the exotic animals.

Additionally, 360 live streaming can transport users to onsite bars, restaurants, and attractions and converse with participating staff members when combined with a VR headset.

The virtual perks extend beyond holidaymakers too; educational tours and school field trips are also profiting.

Often a core target market for museums and art galleries, a growing number of captivating tours are now conducted virtually.

This enables kids to explore historic attractions and landmarks from the comfort of the classroom or as a homework assignment, helping to negate the expense traditionally associated with school excursions.

And, as a consequence, non-school related visitors can tour the same world-famous cultural venues… but without an entourage of screaming school children, or worse, teachers.

However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Despite its popularity, virtual tourism has a few conceivable disadvantages.

Sure, virtual tours could see visitor numbers surge, but the reduction in in-person visits may impact an attraction or venue’s bottom line. Additional revenues traditionally made through onsite coffee shops, restaurants, and souvenir shops could suddenly plummet.

Although online souvenir sales might recoup some of this potential lost revenue, for independent concession stands and local businesses that thrive off in-person visitor traffic might soon be forced to seek a new venue or location to survive.

The Bottom Line

You could argue that virtual tourism is a recession and potentially pandemic-proof travel industry sector.

Whether it is used as a precursor to encourage future in-person visitations or simply to generate additional online income streams. 360 virtual tours are catering to bourgeoning market for those who can’t afford or are unable to travel freely, and a growing number of crowd-averse travellers.

And while virtual tours are only making a small dent in in-person traveller numbers currently, given the consistent technological advances and an ever-growing digital marketplace, and its multifaceted experiences, virtual tourism is here to stay.

Those who were early adopters are already flourishing, and those following suit will not be far behind. However, it’s those who invest in the most immersive and life-like experience that will ultimately maximise its true potential.


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Stuart Hughes
Technology Writer
Stuart Hughes
Technology Writer

Stuart is a freelance journalist and marketing content writer and a graduate of Canterbury Christ Church University. His writing covers topics including AI, Cybersecurity, Aviation, and Travel & Tourism. Beyond his work for Techopedia, he also writes articles for Best Western Hotels & Resorts, Lenovo Computers, and several aviation-based clients. Having resided in various corners of the world, Stuart still enjoys exploring new destinations, and when he's not traveling, he's playing football and golf or out on the bike.