Korea is reimagining famous tourist destinations

A new way to travel.

A Korean entrepreneur is building the country’s tourist landmarks in the metaverse.  

By Sunny Um, South Korea correspondent, Maritime Fairtrade

With one of the deadliest viruses spreading across countries, people who used to enjoy traveling overseas are now “trapped behind doors”. Many countries have closed down their borders and suspended visa waiver programs for tourists without further notice. 

Staring at videos and photos of famous tourist destinations can be a solution to quench the thirst for traveling. But a start-up based in Seoul, South Korea, has a better idea to satisfy wanderlust — building famous landmarks and monumental places in a metaverse platform.

What is metaverse?

Metaverse, a term introduced in the novel “Snow Crash” published in 1992, initially referred to a virtual space, or a system, where people’s avatars lived. While there is no universal definition of this system, some of its common attributes include real-time three-dimensional graphics, avatars, interactions amongst avatars, and connections to payment systems for users to buy and sell products.

Min Mun-ho, CEO and founder of metaverse builder Awesomepia, told Maritime Fairtrade that metaverse is a compound of many technologies, including virtual reality, augmented reality, and big data.  

“It is where virtual reality and reality meet,” Min, who also lectures at Sungkyunkwan University as an affiliated professor, said. While there are many uses for such near-reality platforms, Min says his platform focuses on virtual tourism.

A virtual space with real-time scenarios

Together with LG Hello Vision, a subsidiary company of wireless carrier LG U Plus, Awesomepia plans to build tourist destinations of South Korea in a metaverse platform.

The platform, a part of their project “Smart Cultural Tourism Solution”, will be a virtual space synthesized with real-time videos and audio sound for virtual visitors. Users can access the platform without any additional gadgets, such as VR goggles, and create their avatar-self to interact with other avatars.

Users of Awesomepia’s tourism platform will be able to observe live sceneries and hear the sounds of the corresponding places. Virtual tourists “can see and feel ocean waves of Jeju Island, maple leaves of Seoraksan Mountain in Gangwon Province, and snow in Jeonju.”

The real-time data used in the platform will be collected through BORA XR, a telescope that Awesomepia built and rolled out last December. 

“BORA XR is a smart telescope that can provide tourist information to the visitors,” Min said. “Our platform will collect real-time data from famous tourist destinations by using BORA XR installed at those places. The collected imagery and sound will be synthesized with the platform’s settings for virtual tourists.”

Awesomepia plans to launch a virtual area to travel to Jeju Island first, the biggest island in South Korea next January. Following that, Min said the company will recreate virtual areas for other tourist destinations recommended by local governments and communities as well. 

New potential for the tourism industry

Min said Awesomepia’s platform will be welcomed by tourists who wanted to visit South Korea but could not due to the pandemic.

“Many virtual places that we plan to make in the platform, including Jeju Island, are popular to non-Korean tourists, too,” he said. “An online metaverse platform that provides real-time experiences of Korean tourist destinations will be special to those restrained from outdoor activities.”

Also, Min hopes that his platform can provide new career opportunities to those who lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

“Many tour guides, for example, lost their jobs since the virus outbreak,” he said. “Those tour guides can create avatars in the platform and provide local knowledge to the visitors who are not familiar with Korean cities and culture.

“Also, artists and performers, who are struggling to find performance opportunities, can perform and share their works in our platform. They can promote their work via virtual performances and collect money from ticket sales.”

The metaverse tourism can be profitable for local governments and communities as well, Min said. “Local governments can attract more tourists by having some of their famous landmarks built in our platform.”

“Local communities and producers can sell local items or merchandise to the visitors using real payment systems, including non-fungible tokens, linked to the platform. They will not have to pay for costs like promotion or advertisement as visitors are already on the platform and they can make direct purchase from the sellers.”

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