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Incheon: The Metaverse-fueled Smart Tourism City

🗣 A city’s ICT (Information and communication technology) infrastructure can play an important role in making it competitive in tourism, which is why the central and local governments in South Korea are operating a project to build a smart tourism city based on ICT to revitalize local tourism. The number of organizations applying for the project increased by more than 33% in 2021 compared to last year.

Research related to smart cities and smart tourism has been conducted in a variety of ways since the early 2000s. However, research on smart tourism cities remains in its infancy, which is why conducting research to understand the current status of urban development projects is necessary to apply the concept of a smart tourism city.

Incheon is the first selected area in South Korea to create a smart tourism city, providing services, content, and information on smart tourism to tourists. In addition, Incheon is making efforts to overcome the spatial limitation that a smart tourism city requires, and it has also developed content that applies the metaverse concept. 

What is a “smart tourism city”?

🗣  ‘Smart’ is a buzzword that describes a city’s technology integration in various sectors serving to enhance efficiency and convenience. ‘Smart tourism’ is an application of ‘smart’ in the tourism sector, allowing a technology-oriented on-site tourism experience at a destination. ‘Smart tourism city’ is a city that facilitates smart tourism to offer innovative tourism destinations with sustainable development.

Although the term smart tourism city seems to be the technical sum of three separate words, its definition is not confined to the mere integration of technology in tourism and the city. It pursues the ideal form of tourism destination, not only providing tourists with convenient experiences but also aiming to enhance the residents’ quality of life which sustains the ecosystem. In this regard, a smart tourism city is oriented toward a similar goal that a smart city, which represents an up-and-coming city fueled by digital technologies to optimize resource efficiency, improving the quality of life of all residents.

Smart tourism city can be considered a specialized concept, operating upon the technological and theoretical foundations that the smart city provides, but mainly focused on the innovativeness of the tourism sector. Therefore, it is particularly concerned with integrating technology into tour related realms, which enhance the enjoyment of tourist attractions and provide easy accessibility to the destination. Meanwhile, the recent development of virtualization technology makes it possible for tourists to experience these cities in the virtual world, allowing them to enjoy the attractions regardless of physical accessibility. This new shift in the tourism sector can be explained by the term metaverse.

The Virtual World Evolution: From Offline to Metaverse

🗣 Metaverse, a 3D virtual world where people can experience a social/economic environment as in the real world, has recently gained explosive attention in the tourism industry as physical movement and human touching were restricted in the COVID-19 pandemic. Metaverse was commercialized as Second Life, a social virtual world game in 2003, 10 years after its first appearance in Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson in 1992. However, it was virtually impossible for individuals and companies to actively engage in metaverse due to the limitations of the ICT level and the lack of public interest. Only today, active engagement is realized through smartphones and Wi-Fi, which allow people to access it freely.

Metaverse based on hyper-connection not only satisfies the human instinct for social interaction and embodies the experience of the real world but provides a transcendent space where people can express themselves through avatars, a new self, different from oneself in the real world. The transcendental characteristics of the Metaverse triggered various fields, such as tourism, marketing, and education, to recognize it as a new business model. Thus, over the past few decades, the scope of the business has expanded from offline to website-based online, and now it is expanding once again from website to metaverse.

Metaverse-driven Smart Tourism

🗣 Smart Tourism City strives to provide improved attractiveness and accessibility of the city by gradually expanding tourists’ experiences that have been provided based on the city’s ICT infrastructure into the real and virtual-based metaverse. Metaverse basically shares the concept of ‘convergence of real and virtual world’, but depending on which world is focused on more, it can be divided into real-based and virtual-based metaverse.

A real-based Metaverse focuses on the real world and reinforces the experience through virtual technology. A mirror world (e.g., google earth), a thorough replication of the real world or AR adopted in museums (e.g., Casa Batlló AR) can be understood as the real-based metaverse.

On the other hand, a virtual-based metaverse provides a novel experience that unfolds in the virtual spaces that are separated from the real world. It includes lifelogging, social media to share tourism experiences in a virtual space, and a virtual world that allows individuals to participate in the experience as an avatar.

Despite the metaverse’s potential and growing popularity, the existing studies only suggest a vague image of how it can be applied to the tourism sector.

Incheon: Leading smart tourism city in Korea

🗣 Incheon is a metropolitan city in northwest South Korea and its open port is a tourist destination, with many modern historical cultural assets preserved around the time of its opening in the late 19th century. Incheon open port is currently developing a smart tourism city by building a smart ecosystem, environment, and experience.

Here we’ll introduce two main metaverse services provided by Incheon through the ‘Incheon Easy’ smart tourism application 👇

Real-Based Metaverse – ‘AR Incheon’

🗣 AR services designed by Incheon provide one-way interactive content by smartphone cameras, letting tourists experience AR in the real world as themselves by using the app, increasing tourism attractiveness.

AR in Incheon is more than other simple AR services such as the delivery of information through digital display, description, and guide content which most smart cities and museums provide. It provides AR navigation services and AR maps, but it is differentiated by providing historic maps and experiences from the past.

It engages the users in the real world, providing extended reality experiences, such as environment-related historic figures guiding the tourists in a panoramic virtual mirror world through AR. There, they can share experiences on social media, seamlessly connecting real-world-based and virtual-world-based Metaverse. Lastly, there is a gamified service ‘Operation Incheon’ which gives missions to tourists, engaging in the service by providing incentives.

Virtual-Based Metaverse – ‘Incheoncraft’

🗣 Incheon developed metaverse entertainment content that provides ‘Incheon experience’ using Minecraft, a sandbox game in which players explore a virtual world freely as avatars. This enabled users to create and experience Incheon without limits in the metaverse world, allowing it to deliver the smart metaverse experience to tourists without their physical visit.

There are examples of indirect experiences through Minecraft such as ‘English Heritage’ providing a ‘mirror world’ experience without interactions. However, Incheon wanted to create something impossible to be experienced in the real world. The solution was to provide more than the city’s façade, through virtual time-travel in Incheon interacting as an avatar. In ‘Incheoncraft’, users can experience historic events with historic figures, and learn educational facts in the Incheon metaverse.

 💪 Talk about taking tourism to the next level, right? Metaverse and AR are already revolutionizing the travel industry and SK’s Incheon just turned it up a notch! How do you think Smart Tourism Cities will change tourists’ experiences? Let us know! 👇

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