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Kouroupi, N.; Metaxas, T. Metaverse to Address the Vulnerability of Overtourism. Encyclopedia. Available online: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/45512 (accessed on 22 June 2024).
Kouroupi N, Metaxas T. Metaverse to Address the Vulnerability of Overtourism. Encyclopedia. Available at: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/45512. Accessed June 22, 2024.
Kouroupi, Nansy, Theodore Metaxas. "Metaverse to Address the Vulnerability of Overtourism" Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/45512 (accessed June 22, 2024).
Kouroupi, N., & Metaxas, T. (2023, June 13). Metaverse to Address the Vulnerability of Overtourism. In Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/45512
Kouroupi, Nansy and Theodore Metaxas. "Metaverse to Address the Vulnerability of Overtourism." Encyclopedia. Web. 13 June, 2023.
Metaverse to Address the Vulnerability of Overtourism
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Overtourism has become a critical problem in many popular destinations around the world, leading to negative impacts on the environment, local communities, and the quality of the visitor experience. 

overtourism metaverse digital transformation sustainability destination management

1. Introduction

Tourism is a major economic sector that has experienced unprecedented growth in recent decades. However, this growth has also led to negative impacts on the environment, culture, and society in many destinations. Overtourism, which refers to the situation where the number of tourists exceeds the carrying capacity of a destination, has become a pressing issue in many parts of the world [1]. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected and changed consumers’ behaviour [2], minimising the problem as temporary restrictions and health concerns have reduced tourist flows to some destinations while exposing the vulnerabilities of tourism-dependent economies [3]. In this context, new digital technologies and the metaverse have emerged as potential solutions to address the challenges of overtourism and create new opportunities for destinations [4][5]. The metaverse and new digital technologies are here to stay and to change from the ground up the way we think, experience, remember, and share the vacations and trips [6]. New technologies that are used a lot in gaming right now will most probably be used soon in other fields, like tourism.

2. Overtourism Phenomenon

As demonstrated by various studies [7][8][9], overtourism is a pressing issue that has detrimental effects on both the environment and local communities. When destinations become too popular and exceed their carrying capacity, it can lead to overcrowding, cultural commodification, and social and economic imbalances [10][11][12]. To combat the negative consequences of overtourism, sustainable tourism practices must be implemented to ensure that destinations can accommodate visitors in a responsible manner [8]. Overtourism has emerged as a significant debate issue in many well-known tourist destinations around the world in recent years. The results of a study by the activist travel company Responsible Travel indicate that 98 locations spread across 63 countries are struggling because of high visitor numbers [13].
One trend that has emerged in the literature regarding overtourism is the need for a more nuanced understanding of overtourism. Scholars have argued that overtourism is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that cannot simply be reduced to issues of overcrowding and environmental degradation [10][11][12]. The impacts of overtourism can be even more wide-ranging and can include damage to cultural heritage sites, depletion of natural resources, commodification of culture, deterioration of the built environment, and social and economic imbalances [7][8][10][14]. Researchers have identified several key factors that contribute to overtourism, including the growth of low-cost air travel, the rise of online booking platforms, the “touristification of housing”, and the increasing popularity of sharing economy services [14][15][16][17]. It is therefore crucial that academics and practitioners adopt a more holistic approach to understanding the various social, economic, and cultural factors that contribute to the phenomenon of overtourism.
Another trend that has emerged in the literature is the importance of community involvement in addressing overtourism. Scholars have argued that local communities have a critical role to play in addressing overtourism, since they are often the most directly impacted by the negative consequences of mass tourism [8][16][18][19]. Therefore, it is essential that tourism planners and policymakers engage with local communities to develop solutions that are mutually beneficial and sustainable [19][20].
Finally, an emerging trend in the literature is the need for more innovative and sustainable tourism practices. Scholars have argued that traditional tourism models based on mass tourism and high-volume, low-value tourism are not sustainable in the long term [21][22][23]. In this regard, some destinations have implemented measures to limit the number of tourists, while others have focused on promoting ecotourism, responsible tourism, cultural tourism, and community-based tourism [14][16][24][25]. All these efforts are aimed at ensuring that tourism is managed in a way that benefits both tourists and local communities while being environmentally and socially sustainable. Additionally, these models embrace principles of sustainability and are more aligned with the values of contemporary tourists who seek authentic, meaningful, and sustainable travel experiences [26][27].

3. Destination Management

Destination management has been an important subject in the field of tourism studies, and there have been a number of noteworthy trends in the literature over the past few years.
One trend that has emerged is the importance of destination governance for effective destination management. Scholars have argued that collaborative governance structures that involve local people and stakeholders from multiple sectors and levels of government are critical for sustainable destination management [11][12][21][22]. Another trend in the literature is the need for destination management to be grounded in a solid understanding of the destination’s unique characteristics and competitive advantages [22][23][27]. This requires a thorough analysis of the destination’s resources, attractions, and visitor profiles, as well as a strategic approach to product and service development.
Finally, there has been an increasing emphasis on the role of technology in destination management. In order to succeed in the new digital era, destinations will need to comprehend their visitors’ preferences and sustainably offer them an interconnected and seamless brand experience [6]. This includes the use of data analytics, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and digital platforms to enhance visitor experiences, improve destination marketing, and monitor and mitigate visitor impacts. Scholars have pointed out that these technologies are expected to cause significant changes in how tourism is experienced as well as how destinations are managed [28][29][30]. Destination managers should also be open to embracing these technologies in order to remain competitive in the industry [30]. In fact, Buhalis [30] suggests that the use of such technologies will become a determining factor for competitiveness within the tourism ecosystem. However, scholars caution that technology should be used in ways that are compatible with the destination’s cultural and environmental values and should not undermine the authenticity of the destination experience and the human touch [25][26][27]. Additionally, it is crucial to ensure that these technologies do not exacerbate existing inequalities and are accessible to all.

4. Metaverse Environment

The metaverse is a concept that has gained significant attention in recent years. It refers to a virtual shared space that is created by the convergence of various physical and virtual environments [31][32]. This environment allows users to interact with each other and with computer-generated elements in real-time [32]. With the help of augmented and virtual reality technologies, the metaverse can expand the physical world and allow people to interact naturally using avatars and holograms [30]. It is an exciting area of research that has the potential to revolutionise how people interact with each other and their surroundings.
The emergence of the metaverse is a result of the convergence of technological advancements and societal changes [33]. As highlighted by Dwivedi [30], the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this trend, leading to increased interest from investors and speculation that the metaverse may be the next frontier in internet development. As such, it is crucial to understand the potential implications and opportunities that arise from this phenomenon.
The transition from the current Internet to the metaverse is being driven by several enabling technologies, including artificial intelligence, blockchain, computer vision, IoT and robotics, edge and cloud computing, user interactivity, and immersive technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality [32][33][34][35]. These technologies are currently being used in various digital activities that offer insights into user expectations and emergent metaverses [34][35][36]. For instance, platforms such as TikTok, Google Arts & Cultures, Twitch, and Minecraft provide mixed reality settings that can be compared to those found in metaverses [36].
The metaverse, the “post-reality universe” that is expected to reach maturity in 2030, holds significant potential for transforming the way individuals and brands interact with each other [32][36]. According to Gartner [37], by 2026, a quarter of people will spend at least an hour per day in the metaverse, engaging in a range of activities such as work, shopping, education, entertainment, and socialising. This suggests that the metaverse is poised to become a major force in shaping the future of human experiences across various domains. Further research is needed to explore how tourism and different industries can leverage this new platform to enhance their operations and engage with consumers in novel ways.

5. Tourism-Related Digital Tools and Technologies

To combat the negative effects of overtourism, the tourism industry is crucial to recognise the significance of adopting new technologies, tools, and applications [28][30][38][39]. By keeping abreast of these developments, the tourism sector can provide personalised and sustainable customer experiences while simultaneously contributing to a stronger and more sustainable industry, mitigating the burden of overtourism [6][20][40][41][42]. The tools and technologies that could be utilised in this direction, and are strongly associated to metaverse, are listed below.

5.1. Extended Realities/XR (Virtual Reality/VR, Augmented Reality/AR, Mixed Reality/MR)

Extended reality (XR) technologies are a set of technologies that combine real and virtual environments to create immersive, interactive experiences [43][44][45]. XR technologies include virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). VR is a technology that creates a completely simulated environment that replaces the real world, whereas AR overlays virtual objects onto the real-world environment. MR is a combination of VR and AR, allowing the user to interact with both the virtual and real-world environments simultaneously [40][43][44][45]. These technologies have been used in a variety of industries, including tourism, entertainment, education, healthcare, and retail, since they have proven to be effective in enhancing learning experiences, improving productivity, and providing unique marketing opportunities [40][43][44][45][46][47][48][49][50]. As XR technologies continue to advance, their potential to revolutionize the way we interact with the world around us is becoming increasingly apparent.
The rapid development of XR technologies has the potential to revolutionise tourism by offering visitors immersive and interactive experiences while they are not physically present in the same location [48][49]. Several research findings [6][34][35][40][51] suggest that augmented reality (AR) has the potential to revolutionise the tourism industry by enhancing visitor experiences with immersive and stimulating content. By incorporating cutting-edge technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality, it may be possible to offer tourists an alternative way to explore destinations without negatively impacting local communities or depleting natural resources [27][40][52].
In fact, with the increasing accessibility of AR on mobile devices, smart destinations are utilising this technology to enhance sustainability [53], while at the same time creating new visitor experiences and building communities in the metaverse era [52]. VR and AR technologies have allowed destinations to create engaging and interactive experiences that were previously impossible [40][54]. This could not only lead to a more memorable travel experience but also help alleviate issues such as overtourism in popular destinations during peak periods. As such, it is likely to see continued growth in the use of immersive technologies in the tourism industry in the coming years.
A study by Hopf et al. [55] explored the potential of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies to offer immersive and sustainable tourism experiences. The study suggested that these technologies could be used to create virtual replicas of destinations, allowing tourists to experience a destination without physically visiting it and, in this way, reducing the tourist crowds visiting them [55].
It is clear that the integration of XR technologies into cultural sites, such as museums and cathedrals, has a significant impact on the preservation and accessibility of historical artefacts [25][45][56][57][58][59], which are challenged by overtourism. These immersive technologies provide a means for individuals to explore and experience these sites from anywhere in the world, creating a virtual reality that is indistinguishable from reality [45][54][54]. In addition to physical restoration, the use of XR can enhance visitors’ experiences by enabling them to access previously inaccessible areas and providing a profound sense of presence within historical structures [56][58]. As such, it is evident that these technologies have the potential to revolutionise the way we approach cultural preservation and visitor engagement at heritage sites, promoting their sustainability [25][45].

5.2. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The use of AI in destination management will not only benefit the tourism industry but also have a positive impact on the environment [60]. By analysing data on tourist behaviour and preferences, destinations can make informed decisions about resource management and reduce their carbon footprint [21][61].
For example, they can identify peak periods of tourist activity and adjust their energy consumption accordingly. Additionally, AI-powered systems can help with waste management and water conservation, leading to a more sustainable tourism industry in the metaverse. As destinations become more conscious of their environmental impact, they will be able to attract eco-conscious travellers who are increasingly seeking sustainable tourism experiences [24].
Through the use of AI, destination managers could be able to effectively analyse large amounts of data to gain insights into tourist behaviour, traffic patterns, preferences, and environmental impacts [18][21][58]. This will allow destinations to identify vulnerable areas and create targeted strategies for sustainable tourism. Additionally, destinations could create more personalised experiences for visitors, who will “engage in a dynamic co-creation of experiences within the tourism business ecosystem” [30].
By utilising this data, destinations could also target specific parts of the market with their marketing efforts, ultimately leading to a more successful and sustainable tourism industry.

5.3. Digital Twins

Digital twins are virtual replicas of physical spaces, such as cities, buildings, and landmarks [62]. In tourism, they are being used to create virtual tourism experiences that allow visitors to explore destinations before they visit in person, while additionally aiding in the preservation of historical sites and landmarks by creating their accurate digital replicas [38].
Frey [57] proposed the replication of heavily visited historical sites in nearby locations, enhanced with the use of advanced digital technologies such as holograms and digital twins, to make these cultural sites more appealing to tourists from all backgrounds. This approach not only helps to distribute the tourist flow and reduce overcrowding, but it also provides visitors with a more immersive and interactive experience. By incorporating cutting-edge technologies, tourists can engage with historical sites, events, and cultural practices in a more engaging and informative way [58][63].
This approach has already been successfully implemented in many famous museums around the world, such as the British Museum in London, the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, among others. In addition, in China’s Forbidden City, visitors can explore the ancient palace through a virtual reality experience, whereas Dubai has also created a digital twin of the city that allows visitors to explore its landmarks and attractions virtually.
The technology not only provides a preview of the destination but also helps in efficiently planning the trip [64]. As cultural tourism continues to grow in popularity, it is essential to explore innovative solutions that balance the needs of visitors with the preservation of cultural heritage sites [25][38].

5.4. Blockchain

Another technology that can help address overtourism is blockchain. It could offer a decentralised and secure communication system that facilitates direct interactions between tourists and local communities as well as transparent record-keeping of tourism transactions [21][38][41]. Blockchain can provide a framework for sustainable tourism by allowing tourists to engage directly with local communities and tourism providers while ensuring that all parties’ benefits are properly documented [41].
Blockchain technology is being used to create decentralised tourism platforms that allow tourists to book travel services and experiences directly from local providers. These platforms can help promote more sustainable tourism practices [41] while also controlling visitor numbers and avoiding overtourism. Decentralised platforms could also provide a more authentic and personalised travel experience by connecting tourists with local hosts and promoting community-based tourism [18][23].

5.5. Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things is another technology that is likely to impact destination management. By connecting devices and sensors, the IoT can help destination managers monitor and optimise the use of resources such as energy and water [21][61][65]. It can also be used to create smart tourism experiences such as interactive exhibits, augmented reality tours, and virtual reality experiences [60][61][66]. The European Commission [67] highlighted the need for updated digital infrastructure as destinations “provide digitally enhanced tourism services and implement more digital business processes, or consider developing digital tourism services”. This way, the targeted digital transformation of the tourism sector will move across the metaverse and unite destinations, businesses, and customers with digital experiences, services, and business processes in a seamless way. The integration of the internet of things and smart technologies in the tourism sector could be a valuable asset, offering innovative and sustainable solutions for efficient and effective management that can potentially address overtourism challenges [68]. With the emergence of smart applications, services, and management techniques, there is great potential for the IoT to transform the way we approach evidence-based practice in tourism management [61].
IoT, together with blockchain, can assist in the management of tourist flows, enabling destination managers to better understand and predict patterns of movement and congestion. This information can be used to improve infrastructure and services, reducing the impact of tourism on local communities and the environment. Digitalization tools are already helping destinations improve their brand loyalty and engagement, as “smart tourism technologies and memorable tourism experiences play essential roles in enhancing tourist satisfaction and destination loyalty” [69]. The integration of these technologies has the potential to revolutionise the way we manage tourism, creating a more sustainable, overtourism-free, and enjoyable experience for both tourists and locals alike [27][64].
In conclusion, these tools and technologies have the potential to mitigate the negative impacts of overtourism by providing data-driven insights into tourist behaviour, facilitating stronger relationships between tourists and local communities, and creating immersive experiences. The adoption of these innovations can pave the way for a more sustainable future for the global tourism industry. However, it is important to ensure that the use of digital technologies does not completely replace physical tourism and negatively impact local economies that rely on tourism revenue. Studies highlighted the need for careful consideration of the environmental impact of virtual tourism experiences, as they still require significant energy and resources (data, storage, computing power, etc.) to create and maintain the requested experiences [4][70]. Therefore, a balance between physical and virtual tourism could be the best way to ensure sustainable tourism development.

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