Virtual reality (VR) is now being put to use in myriad ways to help promote travel, and one novel approach that the European Travel Commission has adopted is a VR B2B travel conference—the first-ever EU-China Virtual Travel Fair on Cultural Tourism. The event will officially run from November 27 to 28, although the conference “space” will be virtual and indefinitely browse-able online. In fact, you can already register and view it ahead of the launch via browsers or VR headsets.

EU-China Virtual Travel Fair

A screenshot of the EU-China Virtual Travel Fair. Photo: EU Commission

The platform is a digital recreation of a standard travel fair where destination marketing organizations (DMOs), tour operators, airlines, etc. can virtually network online to drive sales and exchange information between Chinese and European industry players. Organizations can present their digitally recreated booths and post content (both images and videos) on drag-and-drop boards that attendees’ avatars, whose appearances are customizable, can peruse. The fair is primarily for B2B networking, and the European Commission hopes that the platform will become a mainstay matchmaking hub for Chinese and European travel businesses.

Furthermore, attendees can interact with each other via chat windows and call each over Skype while at the fair, along with exchanging business cards. The software used to host the EU-China Virtual Travel Fair is a product of Hyperfair, a San Francisco-based company that creates 3D platforms hypothetically usable for all manner of business meetings and expos.

VR travel fair

A view of some of the communication options for the virtual fair. Photo: European Commission

Conceptually, it’s an interesting approach that allows a greater number of businesses to attend a conference, but in practice, the software is still somewhat clumsy. For one, recreating a VR travel fair that’s available on a web browser (assuming many users won’t want to fully install the program on their computers or mobile devices) has resulted in bare-bones graphics and low-res images and textures. It’s an understandable compromise, but appearance-wise the look of the EU-China Virtual Travel Fair leaves something to be desired. Of course, given that it’s an experience primarily geared towards networking, it may not matter much to participants.

Another issue that attendees will have to contend with is poor software control. While a virtual fair isn’t—strictly speaking—for entertainment purposes, the platform is essentially a 3D video game. Your avatar moves around the fair when you press the arrow keys, with the right and left arrows rotating your character. It’s a clunky control choice, but a necessary one as mouse clicks control exhibitor content and pulls up communication options with other attendees. Unfortunately for right-handed users, this means constantly shifting your right hand between the mouse and keyboard. Most 3D games on computers today utilize the WASD keys on the left side of the keyboard to ameliorate this issue. Some minor tweaks made to the control scheme could make the overall experience much more enjoyable for users.

Regardless of the platform’s shortcomings, the conference remains an interesting idea. While networking and connecting for business purposes over the internet is commonplace, it’s hard to match the opportunities that a physical gathering of travel professionals at a conference or expo can provide for networking. This kind of “virtual fair” may offer an attractive alternative to those unwilling or unable to make a trip across the world for an in-person conference, and an obvious advantage is that materials at virtual fair booths remain available indefinitely, allowing attendees to get a better idea of opportunities out there long after the official event ends.

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