High hopes have been raised for the transformational value of the metaverse (a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users) for hotels, but fully capitalizing on that promise involves several technical and business challenges. Presently, the use of the metaverse in hotels is in its infancy.
Tommy Farr, CEO of Meta Hospitality Consulting Group, believes “the metaverse technology has a way to go, though it’s getting closer” to taking off. He explains that current metaverses are more “pixellated.” As the technology develops, images in the metaverse will become more realistic, he notes. Another issue is that not many people are currently in the metaverse. Farr feels only a small number of guests are using the metaverse in hotels, and those people are primarily “tech people that are very familiar with Web3 technology and are immersed in crypto currencies.”
Unsurprisingly, enhancing brand marketing has been a key aim of current hotel company metaverse projects. In fact, Nicolette Harper, VP of Global Marketing and Media for Marriott, Inc., characterizes “brand awareness campaigns as an entry point” for hotels in the metaverse.
Marriott claims to be the first hotel company to introduce a metaverse experience with its launch of NFTs (Non Fungible Token) last year. That project was an element of the company’s three-year metaverse strategy, which kicked off in 2020 as part of an overall effort “to re-build our entire marketing strategy, targeting a new breed of travellers that were beginning to see travel through a different lens,” reports Harper. Through extensive research, Marriott found these travellers “spent a great amount of time in the gaming space and were communicating more frequently through video games to stay connected with friends,” she says.
Due to the pandemic, greater interest in “remote inspirational travel” emerged. As a result, the company decided to develop “authentic metaverse experiences that weren’t flashy” and contrived. From June to December, 2021, Marriott Bonvoy Hotels created its own NFT metaverse experiences about global travel that mashed up culture, art, and music. The brand enlisted three artists to create NFTs based on their interpretation of travel from their own unique experiences, as part of Marriott’s ‘Power of Travel’ campaign. On Dec. 4, 2021, three attendees at Art Basel Miami Beach won one of the NFTs and 200,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, when a countdown clock revealed the NFTCODE. Those attendees could retain or sell the NFTs. Marriott plans to launch additional metaverse experiences in the late summer, with the aim of maintaining a “persistent presence in the metaverse,” adds Harper. “As the metaverse evolves, we would love to have our guests experience the uniqueness of all our brands in the metaverse.” For example, guests could eventually experience virtually the AC Hotel’s famous gin and tonic and the Westin Hotel’s wellness programs.
In her view, “monetization for the metaverse isn’t there yet, and new technology integrations and more secure digital wallets are needed” to make that happen.
Robin Chadha, citizenM’s CMO, reports that “the company will bring art to the forefront of our guests’ experience, and we will collaborate with a roster of digital artists and growing talent to create and sell NFTs that will be showcased and purchased in the digital space. Each of the 2000 NFTs will be priced equally. However, purchasers will be assigned, at random, one of three levels: 1500 ‘regular’ citizens, 450 ‘special” citizens,’ and 50 ‘legendary’ citizens. The utilities will take the form of discounts, free drinks and more with the specifics of the rewards being determined by the level of NFT assigned to the purchaser. The rewards will be redeemable at any of citizenM’s growing portfolio of hotels in the real world.”
He adds the company plans to ultimately build a virtual hotel, which will “be a location for avatars visiting The Sandbox (a virtual metaverse where players can play, build, own, and monetize their virtual experiences) to work, sleep and play,” though he acknowledges “that could take years.” Chadha further notes that “once the LAND (for the virtual hotel) is purchased, citizenM aims to finance the build of a hotel in the virtual world through the sale of an exclusive collection of NFTs with real-world rewards (utilities) attached.”
Chadha explains that the company’s move into the metaverse is natural. “We are a brand that has always pushed the boundaries and challenged traditional models, and, as the first hospitality company in The Sandbox, the venture fits not only with our brand strategy but also the commitment we have to the creative community and to our guests both online and in the real world.
“From our point of view, building in the metaverse is a good idea because digital engagement isn’t a novelty — it’s just how we live our lives now. The metaverse is simply a further acceleration of a dynamic that’s been emerging for years, in which our digital and real lives blur, and in which online and in-person are completely overlapped. This is a dynamic that we believe the traditional hotel industry doesn’t adequately address. It’s our responsibility to meet our guests where they are.”
One of the key metaverse providers to hotel and corporate event spaces is RendezVerse. The company offers a metaverse-as-a-service platform, allowing buyers of hotel rooms and spaces to view and meet the suppliers of those services in interactive digital environments.”
“We also have RendezVerse Studios, which specializes in building digital twins of events spaces and hotels environments, in complete VR,” explains Peter Gould, the firm’s CEO. “RendezVerse can make the research phase of venue finding much more streamlined and allows hoteliers and events planners to meet in these virtual spaces.”
The Intercontinental Grand Hotel in Paris is journeying into the metaverse through RendezVerse. According to Gould, “we’re currently building spaces for Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Atlantis Palm and IHG, all at varying stages of development. The first Marriott Hotels space launched at the m&i Forum in Seville last month and the IHG hotel will be ready in June or July.”
Gould highlights further some of the key benefits of the metaverse for hotels.
“Experiencing a space in the metaverse means prospective clients get a feel for what it’s really like to be there and can view different venue layouts in seconds. Virtual spaces can be customized with a brand’s identity at the touch of a button and can offer bespoke VIP areas with networking tech to match guests with their prime prospects. For events, capacity limits will become a thing of the past; with the support of a metaverse venue, once the ‘in-person’ tickets are sold out, there’s scope for extra revenue with metaverse-ready tickets.”
Roomza, a full-stack service provider of immersive mixed-reality experiences for the hospitality market, is currently developing its own metaverse called ‘The Roomzaverse,’ which will allow consumers to explore, book, and customize their upcoming hotel stays. According to Curtis Crimmins, the firm’s CEO, “there are plans to eventually expand its focus to other leisure markets that would benefit from pre-arrival personalization, such as cruise lines.”
He contends his company’s “Roomzaverse option affords higher levels of guest interaction with more employee inclusiveness, allowing those that are ‘socially isolated,’ including people with disabilities, to perform ‘front-desk tasks’ and offers employees better pay than usual.”
He warns against the dangers of the metaverse becoming a novelty and stresses his company harnesses the metaverse to “drive values for guests and revenue for hotel owners. He feels many hotel brands use the metaverse simply “as an extension of marketing and an interactive billboard.”
Although he claims Roomza appeals to every demographic that consumes upscale branded hotel products, he sees the highest engagement with the platform coming from 25 to 42-year-olds who stay in hotels at least four times a year.
Crimmins sees great opportunities for other immersive experiences with its platform, including immersive retail experiences. The platform will also allow guests to order ancillary services in 3D and owners to rent empty hotel space for other purposes, such as co-working areas.
The company’s metaverse platform will allow customers to access a floor plan in their own metaverse through mobile phones or through VR or AR devices with headsets.
The Meta Hospitality Group is developing three distinct hotels in two different metaverses as part of its genesis collection, reports Farr. The first one, Hotel Euphoria in the Sandbox metaverse, is designed to create a party atmosphere with DJs and games, geared to an active audience similar to that for W Hotels. The second one, NFT House in the Sandbox metaverse, will be geared more to “a business audience and special events, such as business conferences and weddings. This audience would be more akin to that for hotels such as the St. Regis hotel. The third hotel, Worlds Resort and Spa in the NFT Worlds metaverse, will be a resort destination, encompassing a conference area, a golf course, a swimming pool, and a tennis court. Each hotel will offer utility that translates to both the real world and metaverse. For example, if you hold an NFT from Meta Hospitality’s genesis collection, you’ll have an opportunity to win weekend giveaways at elite destinations.
One of the great advantages of these kinds of metaverses is that they will allow guests to examine possible hotel destinations before visiting them, saving them time and money, according to Farr. Gould notes that “performing venue site visits via VR and AR will lead to reduced time and cost spent on in-person site visits, as event spaces will not need to be lit and air-conditioned for every site inspection.”
A key benefit of the metaverse for hotels is its use as a more cost-effective training tool, he stresses. He feels that prospective hotel staff will increasingly prefer metaverse training, especially emerging from the pandemic.
Farr emphasizes a “slow and steady approach” to incorporating the metaverse in hotel plans. He emphasizes the need for hotel personnel and guests to learn about “the opportunities afforded by the metaverse” before the metaverse will become widespread in the hospitality market.
Harper predicts that “over the next three to five years, the metaverse will bifurcate into centralized walled gardens and decentralized Web3 gateways. She projects we’ll see “the first fully functional digital hotels in metaverses such as Decentraland which will allow you to fully immerse yourself in virtual online worlds, where everything is possible.”
In any case, the long-term future for hotel metaverse experiences looks bright. Indeed, Gould predicts that “the metaverse, or more accurately Web3 applications, will be the next iteration of hotel marketing.”
By Michael Mascioni