Article originally posted on MCA Insights.
Bloomberg has predicted the metaverse will hit an eyewatering value of $800bn by 2024.
Yet despite such mammoth valuations, most people are still fuzzy about what it is, and fewer still understand what this immersive, virtual world could have to do with hospitality.
The metaverse can either simulate the real world or act as a gateway to imaginary, fantasy lands. It is a place where users can live a digital life, including buying a home, buying land, as well as work and play, with transactions made in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.
Some of the most exciting conversations I am having with forward-thinking operators right now involves the building of a brand-specific virtual environment to drive awareness, evangelise their passion and build brand advocacy.
Doing this helps operators find online and offline sales trigger points. While is a lot made of a singular metaverse, Facebook investing $10bn and rebranding as Meta, I believe the power for operators will come in embracing the technology and building small, personalised virtual worlds.
The metaverse will be a collection of digital realms. New employees could get to grips and familiarise themselves with training in a safe environment before stepping into work.
They can get to know the layout of venues, learn menus, meet avatar co-workers and mentors, and even have a go at virtual tasks – all without consequence.
The metaverse will provide that safe place to fail. It’ll also make training sociable and scalable.
Another key area will be hiring – a major industry obstacle
The candidate-hiring process could be conducted in a 3D world which looks, sounds, and feels just like a physical space.
While to some extent this is achievable in a classroom-based environment, it’s not scalable – and it doesn’t have the flexibility of a virtual environment where visitors can explore and experience a place at their own pace. The metaverse presents a stage in the hiring process that can be highly effective in assessing and winning talent.
The most exciting area for me right now is where staff meet customers within the virtual space. It’s a place where people can enjoy a three-dimensional interaction without needing to be in the same room.
This might sound like the antithesis of hospitality today, but the metaverse will appeal to those with a similar mindset to the early adopters of social media. It is this demographic that will want to visit your restaurant, bar, or hotel in the metaverse. Investment bank Citi reckons that the metaverse could have a digital population of as many as five billion people by 2030. That’s a lot of punters.
The meta generation will have the autonomy to see what operators do, why they do it and make informed decisions from the comfort and safety of their own home.
Potential guests could experience a brand’s approach, from the sounds and staff, to the seating arrangements and menu. They could even pick their perfect table.
For those with social interaction difficulties or accessibility requirements, they can check out the venue, ask questions of staff and get comfortable with the surroundings before their booking. To enable this is to be at the forefront of how customer interaction will evolve.
It’s a game-changer for home dining too. The bar or bistro can be brought to a guest’s bedroom for a 3D dining experience. They’ll be able to converse, people-watch and suck up the atmosphere without the fuss.
Those aren’t the only benefits: brands can also create immersive dining experiences. Guests could kick back and enjoy entertainment from West End musicals, sit amongst revelers doing the Charleston in the Roaring Twenties, or unwind and dine while overlooking a Nordic fjord. It sounds outrageous but this level of simulation is already happening in the industry.
Global hotel chain Millennium opened M Social hotel on virtual world Decentraland. Using the digital platform, they’re giving potential guests tours of their hotel.
Saurabh Prakash, group senior vice-president for commercial at Millennium, explained: “We said to ourselves if this is how things are going, we’ve got to be visionary and be pioneers, and be the first to get into it… For us, the biggest reason we are in the metaverse is finding new customers.”
I’m not naïve that these elements will need to tie in with strong commercial alignment for many operators, ensuring companies can capitalize on the virtual footfall and create frictionless purchasing opportunities.
I appreciate there will be those thinking this isn’t true hospitality. But it’s an evolution that must be embraced to ensure this growing customer segment is captured.
It’s transformative for businesses in so many ways – scalability, revenue-generating, brand awareness, and brand loyalty. Although we’re still in the early days of this new technology, there’s no denying that people will soon be meeting down the metaverse. I for one will see you there.
It’s already happening…
At London restaurant Smoky Barrels, guests track and shoot their dinner in a video game-style 3D simulation of the Scottish Highlands. After would-be hunters have ‘shot’ their prize, they sit down to a Scottish-influenced menu. Bringing this type of experience to a guest’s home allows brands to expand beyond physical restaurants to reach a new global audience.
There is such a thing as free meal in the metaverse
The metaverse has already made its way into the real world. California burger restaurant Bord & Hungry is themed around the Bored Ape Yacht Club. This niche concept sees those with a non-fungible token (NFT) of a cartoon ape offered a free meal. Famous owners of these digital images (tokens) include rappers Timbaland and Eminem as well as footballer Neymar Jr.
We’ll drink to this…
In the UK, chef Adam Handling launched London’s first NFT cocktail menu at Eve’s bar in Covent Garden. There are 13 NFTs inspired by the bar’s signature cocktails. Each NFT comes with a digital recipe, a hand-painted illustration by London-based artist Zoe Zahava, and complimentary cocktails.
Heineken offers a sobering experience in its metaverse bar
Brewer Heineken opened a real life metaverse bar in east London that doesn’t serve any drinks. No, Heineken hasn’t lost the plot, it’s just poking fun at the metaverse. Pub-goers wear low-tech ‘virtual reality headsets’ while enjoying a pixelated prop beer in a sparsely populated bar. The staff act like non-playable characters (NPCs), which, depending on where you drink, is a level of customer service you may have experienced before.