Michelle Collins is CEO & President of A Non-Agency, a consumer experience consultancy based in New York City.
There’s a whole new way to travel to a new destination without leaving your community or city. We’re in a new age of experiential communities. Area 15 in Las Vegas paved the way for showcasing how an entertainment destination—city or hotel—could become its own microcosm for immersive entertainment experiences. Now, we are primed to witness the build of a whole new futuristic community in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, dubbed the New Murabbi. This first-of-its kind futuristic city will feature a massive cube skyscraper, which will act as a “gateway to another world” and transform to transport visitors and residents alike through a series of immersive experiences utilizing holograms and VR.
This gateway concept suggests to me that leaders might need to rethink the role of airlines and the terminal gate in the near future. There may be opportunities here for the airline industry to partner with hotel groups, similar to Virgin Airlines and Virgin Hotels, in order to transform the “staycation” in communities around the world.
What if we could reimagine travel within the footprint of our existing communities through a different form of a staycation—within a vacant shopping mall, for example? I believe that for leaders in the travel and hospitality industries, this is a prime time to consider these types of futuristic and technology-fueled solutions and how they can allow us to transform local spaces into short-term, immersive staycation-like experiences.
The Elements Of A Gateway Experience
Imagine if your community shopping malls also offered an elevated and travel-focused Disneyland-style immersive destination. It might be similar to, but far more advanced than, the first 3D movies, VR theaters and planetariums. This cultural spin on entertainment, travel and education could create a unique opportunity for government, nonprofit, city development and tourism boards to unify in a technology-forward agenda that could ignite a whole new economic development plan for the communities and the “destination.”
Ray Bradbury’s short science fiction story The Veldt, published in 1950, suggests a time in the future where virtual reality was so advanced that it was “real.” Within this story, he describes a room, the Nursery, where the walls are big screens and the experiences are so real, it’s as if you are actually there. The children in this story are enamored with the African landscape and the animals that reside there, so much so that they seem to come to life.
And now, in the 21st century, we’re witnessing the growth of temporary experiences that immerse visitors in a live environment programmed with virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), entertainment, art and interactive activities. Now is the time for business leaders to think about how travel, communities and culture can be delivered through the reimagination of spaces and futuristic technologies designed for a new traveler mindset.
Innovation such as this has the potential to grow tourism, revenue and cultural education in much the same way that the Michelin Guide shaped the culinary world. Cultural education in an immersive environment can transform the way people discover, learn and interact with geography, history, horticulture, technology, art, fashion and cuisine. Student field trips and specialized trade workshops could deliver global reach and exposure without the cost of traditional travel and expenses. These destination and cultural experiences could deliver more knowledge and engagement than a visit to a museum alone.
While the “staycation” aspect is a big draw, these interactive destinations can still also generate tourism growth and greater storytelling experiences for travelers from around the world. Consider how instituting global marketplaces within these destinations can invite a wide range of job opportunities for inclusive hiring practices and allow these immersive experiences to feature multilingual, cultural experts who bring heritage, global perspective and insight.
Cities such as Chicago, Austin and Nashville have already developed a reputation for providing rich music and culinary experiences. But malls in suburban communities and cities throughout the country have land and real estate to offer, yet they typically struggle with their programming and reasons to visit. Many suburban communities and secondary cities are struggling to retain talent, address economic growth and define unique community culture in the midst of the cultural shift created by the pandemic, which has now shifted where and how people work, travel and prioritize technology adoption. Communities and residents are rarely asked by zoning or economic development corporations to share data about their interests in art, culture, travel and lifestyle aspirations; the voting or community discussions or discord traditionally happen after the fact.
I believe it is time that brands, business leaders and government official seek to jointly fund initiatives that serve to expand the access to culture, opportunities and entertainment education platforms beyond the “pop-up” store, retail or show. These locations offer prime opportunities for leaders of travel and hospitality brands to begin cultivating “gateway experiences,” even in suburban communities, generating destination communities rather than just destination cities for a lower startup cost.
The possibilities are many. Imagine your brand creating travel experience packages of sky, water, safari or climate themes created by holograms, sensory technologies and virtual reality rooms that are built into state-of-the-art dining spaces, room accommodations, entertainment and public spaces. With the spaces and technology available, leaders in the travel and hospitality industries can help people experience retail, art, culture and culinary journeys in a completely unique way, while providing the community with a destination that attracts area residents and global visitors alike.
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