Catching the latest sci-fi or superhero flick in IMAX 3D or watching her favorite celebrities projected on the Burj Khalifa was a visual treat for many millennials like Mariam not too long ago. For her, virtual reality was restricted to the online gaming arena, accessible only via high-tech headsets. And the augmented reality was a window to hunt for ‘Pokemon’ in the real world.
A decade ago, creating an alternate reality may have sounded like a far-fetched idea, but innovations such as the Metaverse driven by a need for people to interact remotely without losing the human touch are bridging the gap between the virtual and real world. Not only can investors take a closer look at NFT art and real estate from a distance in VR ecosystems, but millennials like Mariam can travel in time, venture into space, and step in the shoes of Transformers robots sitting at home.
Now that virtual reality and augmented reality portals have opened up in the Middle East, the endless possibilities inspire different platforms to roll out immersive experiences.
Just like people appear as their 3D avatars in a VR gallery or the Metaverse, manifestations of digitally created objects are visible in our physical world through mixed reality spaces.
There’s skepticism about how far virtual tours for hotels, museums, and tourism sites in the Middle East can replace real-world experiences, but that hasn’t stopped regional innovators from creating digital replicas of actual locations as an alternative with social distancing in mind.
ZOOM AHEAD TO THE FUTURE OR JOIN THE SPACE RACE
Suppose you’re going to push the limits of imagination while seeking entertainment in Dubai; it’s time to go big. And, there’s no better place for that than the 7000 sq. meter space where you can teleport into 30 different dimensions.
The VR Park at Dubai Mall takes visitors on a journey into Dubai’s future in drone cabs gliding across the city’s skyline and propels them into space on an intergalactic mission to fight off aliens.
You can cruise through dunes around the Emirate like never before while witnessing creatures such as spider camels or slide down the side of the Burj Khalifa for a fantastic experience. In the gaming experience, the VR Park takes the cake when you enter the battle against alien machines as Transformers robots.
But this isn’t the only space raising the VR bar for entertainment in the Middle East.
Dreamscape at the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai uses motion sensors for an interactive experience, as it transports visitors to an alien zoo in a faraway galaxy. Those enthusiastic about exploring planet Earth can dive into the deep blue sea for a rescue mission, and fantasy-fiction comes to life at a VR dragon flight academy.
GET CLOSER TO HISTORY, HERITAGE, OR FAITH, NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE
Young professionals such as Hamza were just getting started to explore destinations across the globe, click insta-worthy pictures, and share surreal experiences with friends or followers when pandemic-induced lockdown dampened their travel plans. But the persistence of curious souls like him created a demand for virtual tourism –initiatives like Baalbek Reborn allowed netizens to explore the digital replica of Roman Heliopolis in Lebanon from the comfort of their living room.
The Lebanese Directorate of General Antiquities joined forces with the German Archaeological Institute and an American firm, Flyover Zone, to bring the UNESCO heritage site back to life. You can either dive into the 3D digital model Baalbek using VR headsets or witness it on your smartphone or laptop screens in 8K resolution.
Saudi Arabia addressed the needs of pilgrims across the globe by launching a VR experience to embrace Kaaba’s black stone at the holy mosque in Makkah. The initiative received mixed reactions, but entering the sacred site using VR headsets seems like a practical solution when the number of pilgrims had to be reduced.
IMAGINATION TURNS INTO REALITY ON THE VIRTUAL CANVAS
Many have been intrigued about art originating from the Middle East, with a rich cultural history. For the unexplored talent in the region waiting to be discovered, the online platforms e opened up the digital realm for artists and illustrators. They can now go beyond posting social media images and selling their work as NFTs through virtual exhibitions.
There’s more in store at MORROW Collective’s virtual gallery in Dubai, which immerses you into the Metaverse featuring curated pieces as NFTs, allowing you to move around in a different realm as an avatar. Every artwork is accompanied by a description telling the story behind it and click-through buttons if you want to buy a piece online.
TAKE A CLOSER LOOK BEFORE YOU BOOK
For travelers such as Ali, booking the best seats and picking the right hotel are priorities for a hassle-free trip to the Middle East. The experience of being in those spaces is the best window into services that virtual reality has unlocked for them. For starters, Emirates Airlines now has its own VR app where passengers can take a tour of the cabin remotely before moving on to a 360-degree virtual tour of hotels, including the Atlantis Dubai, to book their stay.
It doesn’t stop there. You can even plan an entire personalized adventure at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island well in advance by exploring Warner Bros World, Ferrari World, and Waterworld in virtual reality.
For those who have an appetite for more, an upcoming restaurant called MetaTerrace in Dubai will have a VR room where people can dine in different worlds from a single location, using headsets.
The unpredictability of our times has highlighted how travel plans or even the way we used to hang out with friends has changed. Virtual reality leaves a window open for teleporting into different realms from the comfort of our homes. Investing in a VR headset ensures you don’t have to wait for big plans to materialize before stepping out.
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Dubai Tourism CEO Issam Kazim on the future of travel | Trailer