VR in tourism: A new call for virtual tourism experience
amid and after the COVID-19 pandemic
Maksim Godovykh 1*, Carissa Baker 1 and Alan Fyall 1
1 University of Central Florida
* Correspondence: firstname.lastname@example.org
Abstract: Virtual reality has become a more common phenomenon in both destination
marketing and on-site experience. The recent challenges such as overtourism and the
COVID-19 pandemic have created a pressing need to examine virtual tourism as an al-
ternative to traditional travel. This conceptual article aims at clarifying virtual experi-
ence in tourism, discussing the main antecedents and outcomes of virtual experience,
and proposing a conceptual model of virtual tourism experience. The review of the liter-
ature revealed that virtual experience in tourism is influenced by factors related to infor-
mation, quality, technology acceptance, and affective involvement, and has significant
effects on tourists’ attitudes and behavioral intentions. This paper contributes to
knowledge and practice by classifying the main groups of factors influencing virtual
tourism experience, introducing the conceptual model, discussing opportunities for fu-
ture research, and providing recommendations for tourism practitioners.
Keywords: virtual reality; VR; virtual experience; tourism; attitudes, COVID-19
To cite this article:
Godovykh, M., Baker, C., & Fyall, A. (2022). VR in tourism: A new call for virtual tourism experi-
ence amid and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourism and Hospitality, 3(1), 265-275.
Virtual reality (VR) has become increasingly more popular in the gaming, movie, and
theme park industries. Despite the long-term association of tourism with physical location
and authenticity, VR was being applied to tourism contexts even pre-pandemic along with
other contemporary strategies such as augmented reality (AR), 3D virtual worlds, immer-
sive media, and gamification . VR has been utilized most frequently for marketing to
illustrate a place and project a destination image to potential visitors [2-4]. Technologies
like 3D virtual worlds and VR are revolutionizing the way people experience travel and
tourism-related products . There is now an increasingly common practice in visiting
simulations of real places, considered virtual tourism (VT) or virtual experience (VE). Sites
utilize technologies as strategic business decisions because virtual tourism has been an
effective tool in evoking emotion and visit intention towards the real place [6-8]. Though
the question of authenticity, or whether the simulation is “real enough” remains an issue
, VR in tourism spaces is only growing more prominent.
The pandemic brought on a new urgency in creating virtual tourism spaces . The
museum sector in particular has experimented with virtual experiences in the past to pos-
itive effect [11-17]. Intention to use VR in the tourism sector increased during the COVID-
19 pandemic, as it was perceived to be a less risky, more prudent, and affordable substi-
tute for traditional travel [18,19]. Advertising shifted to virtual platforms, providing op-
portunities for engagement and new experiences in the midst of the pandemic . Sites
from museums to zoos to theme parks engaged with varied forms of communications
with guests including behind-the-scenes videos, drone flyovers, 360° videos, virtual tours
of spaces, and mixed reality experiences (AR, VR, and others). During the pandemic and
even after it subsides, virtual tourism allows for safe, accessible options that keep the place
on the mind and may likewise assist in tourism recovery post-pandemic [21,22].
There is a demand for a new research agenda for destinations in response to the sig-
nificant impact on the industry caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The United Nations
World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) describes tourism as the most affected sector
globally and forecasts an annual decline in international tourism receipts of up to $450
billion . The demand for visiting international destinations, staying at hotels, taking
international flights, cruise trips, and other tourism activities may, therefore, not fully re-
cover for several years if at all. The primary barriers likely to hinder tourism recovery
include, among others, the closing of international borders, international travel bans,
bankruptcies of tourism providers, and tourists’ risk perceptions [24-26]. In this period of
“forced hibernation,” there is a need to develop new services that allow for safe travel
experiences, which AR and VR strategies are effective at .
In addition to the pandemic, tourism has been subject to other pressures of late, most
notably that of “overtourism” . Overtourism, more than any other single issue in re-
cent years, has exhibited the most salient negative impacts on tourism including social,
cultural, and environmental costs for the residents with anti-tourism protests witnessed
in many popular destinations . Destination resilience factors, traditionally described
in the literature as the capacity of tourism systems to resist negative impacts , have
become powerless in the face of overtourism, environmental destruction, and global pan-
demics, with them collectively serving as a catalyst for change in the future marketing and
management of destinations. Several actions have been proposed to combat overtourism,
for instance limiting access, demarketing, price increases, and other on-site interventions
; however, a reconceptualization of tourism itself may also be beneficial. This research
note advances the view that tourism will never return fully to its previous state and that
significant changes in tourism research and tourism management related to the “virtual-
izing” of the tourism experience should be conducted to respond to the significant chal-
lenges that lie ahead.
At a time when experiential research in tourism is more pressing than ever, research
in this domain continues to face a number of limitations. Yung and Khoo-Lattimore 
described three groups of methodological issues in using VR and AR in tourism research:
lack of unified terminology, non-acceptance of VR technologies, and lack of theory. In
addition, the commonly applied self-reported retrospective evaluations of tourists’ expe-
rience are biased by social desirability, extreme responding, recency effect, memory limi-
tations, respondents’ inability to verbalize their feelings, and other response biases .
Currently applied methodology also does not allow capture of the dynamics of pre-visit,
on-site, and post-visit phases of the tourist experience. Furthermore, the traditionally de-
scribed intangible and experiential nature of tourism products is inaccessible in real tour-
ism and hospitality settings due to the material nature of hotel rooms, air flight tickets,
monetary transactions, and other physical objects.
This article aims to review the empirical and conceptual literature on VR in tourism,
discuss the main antecedents and outcomes of virtual experience, and propose a concep-
tual model of virtual experience in tourism. Understanding perceptions of VR in the tour-
ism context will allow scholars and practitioners to grasp the macro view of these tech-
nologies and assess the directions that sites should develop into considering the pandemic
and other challenges facing the global industry.
2. Virtual Tourism Experience
The topic of virtual experience is not new in the tourism context. Although virtual
reality and virtual experience are often used interchangeably in tourism and hospitality
research, there is a difference between these terms. VR is traditionally defined as a com-
puter-generated environment, where the user has an opportunity to immerse, look
around, and control the experience . Technologies represented in virtual reality range
from 360° videos, VR, AR, and virtual meetings to the digital world as a persistent virtual
environment, which can be broadly classified based on the levels of immersion, presence,
and complexity . The levels of immersion can be defined as non-immersive (e.g., com-
puter, display, mice), semi-immersive (e.g, high-resolution displays, projectors, hard sim-
ulators), and fully immersive (e.g. VR glasses, head mount display), based on the type of
simulation and degree of user’s abstraction from the real world . Immersive qualities
may differ based on the transparency of the media; more transparent media allows an
individual to focus on the content unlike in hypermediated spaces, where the interface is
continuously apparent . The level of presence (the perception of being in and feeling
connected to the virtual environment) is related to the processing of virtual stimuli by the
human sensory system and depends on external stimuli, subjective components of expe-
rience, and the user’s individual characteristics [34,35]. The complexity of the experience
and the capabilities of the technology also make a difference in immersive qualities and
the likelihood of adoption by destinations.
At the same time, virtual experience in tourism and hospitality can be broadly de-
scribed as the totality of tourists' affective, cognitive, and sensorial responses before, dur-
ing, and after interaction with the virtual environment . Applications of experience in
tourism research include visiting virtual destinations, hotels, attractions, and artifacts that
make it possible to examine and interact with them. Virtual tours of historic sites and at-
tractions were especially common during the pandemic with ancient Egyptian sites, Petra,
the British Museum, the Louvre Museum, Frida Kahlo’s house, the White House, and oth-
ers . Ancient sites that no longer exist (e.g., ancient Roman spaces and traditions) and
extant or extinct museum exhibits (e.g., the world’s first photographic exhibit) can be rec-
reated with these technologies [16,17]. Many applications allow for marketing a location
or providing experience to those who cannot attend. For example, several of the pavilions
at Expo 2020 Dubai, the most recent world exposition, are available in 360° videos,
walkthroughs, video tours, and other online presentations due to the persistence of the
COVID-19 pandemic. Tethered and untethered VR experiences using popular apparat-
uses are applied in destinations, with some using expensive equipment and others requir-
ing only an application download for a mobile device . AR experiences and holograms,
both of which may superimpose digital images on physical space, have been expanding
in several industries including tourism . 3D virtual worlds like Second Life have also
been considered in research, with functions such as marketing, virtual tours, and hosting
virtual embassies [37,38].
There are notable limitations of virtual experience. In some cases, virtual techniques
are used to augment visitor experience at the site, for example adding a multi-sensory VR
presentation in a wine tourism location . However, certain aspects of sensory experi-
ence (particularly gustatory and olfactory dimensions) are much more difficult to repro-
duce than visual, auditory, and occasionally tactile VR offerings, making the experience
less complete. There is concern that VR experiences may be less personal than traditional
tourism . One study  found that virtual tourism can bring positive outcomes such
as learning and intent to visit, but it can also intensify negative emotions elicited in things
like dark tourism sites, which then leads to a decrease in visit intention. It is easier to
mediate emotions in a physical setting by tactfully structuring experiences. In addition,
virtual tourism is often conceptualized as a substitute for experience rather than the expe-
rience itself or is viewed as less authentic . Deng et al.  found that VR websites
might negatively influence visit intentions. The notion that virtual travel not only has ad-
vantages to traditional travel but that it poses a threat to tourism because it will com-
pletely displace physical travel  echoes the concerns of postmodern critics that simu-
lation is more appealing than reality [43, 44].
Nonetheless, virtual experiences have been found to be advantageous. Virtual expe-
riences, especially those with immersive and social interaction features, can increase guest
satisfaction and loyalty . Flavián et al.  suggested that virtual experience brings
additional value to the customer purchase journey. A recent study by Bogicevic et al. 
found that pre-visit virtual experience leads to higher levels of tourism brand experience.
Di Franco et al.  determined that virtual replicas in museum settings evoke more reac-
tions than real artifacts. This aligns with previous work that observes “in situ” display
(with dioramas, environmental design, immersion, etc.) is often more impactful than “in
context” display, or the traditional technique of artifacts arranged in a curated taxonomy
[49,50]. In another study , telepresence (allowing one to feel present in a place that is
not the physical location one is in) can predict one’s user experience with virtual environ-
ments still giving the perception of “being there.” Importantly, no significant differences
between physical presence and virtual experience were found for tourists’ emotional en-
gagement, spatial presence, and behavioral intentions [12, 52]. Travelers can be fully im-
mersed by the virtual experience, detached from the real-world environment, partake in
the realism of virtual scenarios, and report revisit intentions similar to experiencing the
actual physical destination.
3. Antecedents, Outcomes, and Theoretical Foundations
3.1. Antecedents of Virtual Experience
Several potential antecedents of virtual experience described in the literature are pre-
sented in Table 1. Antecedents in some of the literature coincide with the theoretical un-
derpinnings of the studies. For example, literature based on the Technology Acceptance
Model use that framework’s antecedents of perceived ease of use and perceived useful-
ness [53-55] or a study focused on experiential dimensions uses those for its attributes .
Similarly, those who study presence [56,8,57] or telepresence [3,10] as a core concept ob-
serve it as an antecedent of effective virtual experience. Different qualities that lead to
immersion including flow and interactivity , sensory fidelity , and emotional in-
volvement  have also been found to be significant. Another common theme in the lit-
erature is that of quality [59,60,40], as low-quality experiences may provide less realism.
The visual affordances of VR technologies are pointed to in some literature [6,61,58,59,62]
while others include the content itself [59,4] or user qualities such as attitudes towards VR
 or interest in VR .
Table 1. Antecedents of virtual experience
Hyun and O’Keefe (2012)
Huang et al. (2013)
Interactivity, perceived ease of use, perceived useful-
Huang et al. (2015)
Perceived ease of use, perceived usefulness, percep-
tions of autonomy, competence, relatedness
Griffin et al. (2017)
Type of virtual stimuli
Disztinger et al. (2017)
Perceived ease of use, perceived usefulness
Rainoldi et al. (2018)
Type of information
Tussyadiah et al. (2018)
Sense of presence
Beck and Egger (2018)
Type of virtual stimuli
Marasco et al. (2018)
Marchiori et al. (2018)
Emotional involvement, visual appeal
Field of view, presence of animated elements
Kim and Hall (2019)
Perceived easiness, perceived usefulness
Li and Chen (2019)
Hudson et al. (2019)
Perceived ease of use, perceived usefulness
Immersion, social interaction
Wei et al. (2019)
Functional quality, experiential quality
Yung et al. (2020a)
Immersion, engagement, presence, sensory fidelity
Lee et al. (2020a)
Education, entertainment, escapism, esthetic
Lee et al. (2020b)
Content quality, system quality, vividness
Lo and Cheng (2020)
Intensity of presence
Rejón-Guardia et al. (2020)
Personal innovation, attitude towards VR, performance
Schiopu et al. (2021)
Perceived ease of use, interest in VR, perceived sustain-
Lee and Kim (2021)
Information access, flow, interactivity, telepresence
Rauscher et al. (2021)
Performance expectancy, effort expectancy, social in-
fluence, facilitating conditions
Sarkady et al. (2021)
Perceived ease of use, perceived usefulness, perceived
risk, perceived severity
Zheng et al. (2021)
3.2. Outcomes of Virtual Experience
Several possible outcomes of virtual experience described in the literature are pre-
sented in Table 2. The main outcomes of the virtual tourism experience are related to us-
ers’ emotional responses, attitudes, and behavioral intentions. A lab experiment con-
ducted by Beck and Egger  revealed differences in electrodermal activity and heart rate
variability responses that were traditionally associated with emotional arousal between
the groups exposed to virtual scenarios by using traditional screens and head-mounted
displays. Another heart rate experiment  found that characteristics of VR can lead to
strong memories. Others found emotional involvement as an outcome [54,58] or pointed
to specific emotions such as enjoyment [2,63,8]. Brand or destination image and awareness
is another outcome of virtual experience, with several studies addressing it [61,3,4,57]. The
learning component of virtual experience is accounted for in literature including under-
standing material , the information search process , and the ability to make in-
formed decisions and initiate travel arrangements .
Many studies are positioned within the popular Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen,
1991), wherein attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral controls impact be-
havioral intention and then actual behavior. In several studies, virtual experience can lead
to outcomes that connect to this model such as attitude changes [64,56,63,8], overall be-
havioral intentions [54,2,14], use intentions , purchase intentions [64,56], visit inten-
tions [7,10,56,8,57,40], revisit intentions , intention to recommend , and continued
use . Other beneficial outcomes for the destination include visitor satisfaction [45,60],
loyalty , and value .
Table 2. Outcomes of virtual experience
Hyun and O’Keefe (2012)
Huang et al. (2013)
Enjoyment, positive emotions, emotional involvement,
flow experience, behavioral intentions
Huang et al. (2015)
Enjoyment, travel intentions
Griffin et al. (2017)
Beck and Egger (2018)
Marasco et al. (2018)
Emotional involvement, behavioral intentions
Rainoldi et al. (2018)
Marchiori et al. (2018)
Destination image, information search process
Tussyadiah et al. (2018)
Enjoyment, attitude changes, and visit intentions
Kim and Hall (2019)
Subjective well-being, continued use
Li and Chen (2019)
Hudson et al., (2019)
Wei et al. (2019)
Satisfaction, revisit intentions, recommending inten-
Lee et al. (2020a)
Kim et al. (2020)
Attachment to VR, visit intentions
Leung et al. (2020)
Ad cognition, ad attitudes, ad memory, brand atti-
tudes, purchase intention
Rejón-Guardia et al. (2020)
Enjoyment, use intention, changes in attitude towards
Lo and Cheng (2020)
Attitude toward a hotel, purchase intention
Yung et al. (2020a)
Destination awareness, destination understanding,
emotions, visit intentions, perceived risks
Lee and Kim (2021)
Utilitarian value, hedonic value, visit intention
Zheng et al. (2021)
Hyun and O’Keefe (2012)
3.3. Theoretical Foundations
Virtual travel can be understood as a way to enhance tourism experiences or an al-
ternative type of tourism [67,65,68]. Despite initial distrust, virtual experiences have been
found to lead to the same levels of emotions, attitudes, and behavioral intentions that
physical travel has. These experiences may not be a replacement for physical travel, but
they can be viewed instead as “another form” of travel rather than merely a substitute
The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), modeled on the Theory of Planned Be-
havior , is the most common theoretical foundation employed in research to explain
the behavioral outcomes of virtual experience [71,31]. TAM describes perceived useful-
ness and perceived ease of use as the main antecedents of users’ attitudes that lead to
intention to use and then actual usage. Another frequently cited framework is the United
Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology (UTAUT) wherein performance expectancy,
effort expectancy, social influence, and facilitating conditions impact behavioral intention
and use behavior, with gender, age, experience, and voluntariness of use as moderating
influences . Self-determination theory, which understands sources of motivation
through several constructs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness), has also been
utilized in literature to illustrate that greater autonomy and relatedness while experienc-
ing virtual tourism has a positive influence on travel intention and enjoyment . The
presence theory, positing that involvement and immersion enhance the user experience,
might also be applied in tourism experience research . The concept of narrative trans-
portation, occasionally used in tourism, could be employed in VR destination narratives
Other disciplines (e.g., digital media, game studies, education, new media studies,
etc.), may bring more nuanced conceptualization of immersion, presence, flow, interactiv-
ity, and other components of virtual experience. For instance, Dede  found that inter-
active media could utilize immersion through the senses, through actions not possible in
the real world, and through symbolism, triggering psychological associations; virtual
tourism environments might use these concepts as well as the potential outcomes he sug-
gested: allowing multiple perspectives, situated learning, and knowledge transfer. Like-
wise, Brown and Cairns’  levels of immersion (engagement, engrossment, total im-
mersion) could be helpful constructs in tourism. Application of these frameworks to the
tourism context is a natural next step.
4.1. Conceptual model
The main antecedents of virtual experience in tourism include quality factors, tech-
nology acceptance factors, information-related factors, and affective factors (Figure 1). The
quality factors are associated with VR content quality, functional quality, and system
quality. Among the previously described technology acceptance factors are perceived
ease of use and perceived usefulness. The information factors include the type of virtual
stimuli and the type of presented information. Affective antecedents are related to the
level of immersion, presence, intensity of virtual experience, emotional arousal, and the
valence of emotions.
Figure 1. Conceptual model.
Attitudes and behavioral intentions are introduced as the main outcomes in the pro-
posed model. Virtual experience in tourism settings might affect the image of the destina-
tion, perceived value, destination attachment, and different components of attitudinal loy-
alty. The behavioral intentions influenced by virtual experience include intentions to visit
a destination, as well as purchase and travel intentions. The effects of quality factors,
technology acceptance factors, information-related factors, and affective factors on virtual
experience, attitudes, and behavioral intentions are moderated by users’ individual char-
acteristics, including age, gender, socio-demographic, personality traits, prior experience,
4.2. Future research directions
The virtual tourism research agenda should include using types of computer-gener-
ated travel experience that provide tourists an opportunity to view, immerse, and control
the environment. Considering the level of immersion into a virtual environment and the
degree of realism, it is suggested that tourists can receive affective, cognitive, and senso-
rial experiences from visiting virtual attractions, choosing travel transportation and ac-
commodation, admiring landscapes, and interacting with other virtual tourism providers
and tourists. Concepts of co-creation and participation can be assessed to determine
whether design merits more agency and interactive features, as one study noted that mul-
tiple technology usage can lead to value co-creation in each phase of the visit . Re-
searchers might conduct cross-sectional and longitudinal research by using VR, collect
data from smartphones and wearable sensors, as well as manipulate different experi-
mental scenarios, stimuli, and interventions. The current adoption level of mobile and
web-based applications makes it possible for participants to visit virtual destination sce-
narios by using smartphones and personal computers, VR headsets, and other extended-
reality technologies. Virtual travel experience scenarios can also include pre-trip, on-site,
and post-trip components. There are myriad opportunities for meaningfully reassessing
the presence of contemporary technologies in the tourism sector.
The main difference between virtual experience and the traditional hypothetical ex-
perimental scenarios is the participants’ motivation to receive virtual travel experiences
that they cannot receive in real life and the levels of immersion in virtual destination sce-
narios. Additionally, using mobile technologies makes it possible to design different travel
scenarios and collect objective data from wearable sensors and smartphone applications
(geospatial position, heart rate, blood pressure, galvanic skin response, acceleration, etc.).
One of the successful examples from the medical field is the Eureka health research plat-
form, which helps to collect data from mobile applications for many health-related studies
with hundreds of thousands of volunteers worldwide . The pandemic has made tech-
nology interaction more common, with consumer purchases of VR and AR headsets up
more than 50% ; thus, this is an ideal time to consider innovative data collection and
technology adoption in tourism.
4.3. Implications for research and practice
Using virtual tourism experience can contribute to tourism research in several ways.
First, it will ensure ideal intangible experiences, which are hard to provide in real settings.
It will also facilitate the objective measurement of the temporal dimensions of the tourism
experience at different time points before, during, and after the virtual trip. Next, it will
make possible the study of subjects in natural virtual environments, taking into account
the levels of immersion and realism of virtual scenarios. Finally, it will help prevent self-
report biases by observing the real behavior of tourists and collecting sensor and mobile-
based psychophysiological responses. Virtual reality scenarios make it possible for inves-
tigators to design and test outcomes of different destination situations by placing peak
experiences at different time points [79,80], segmenting visitors by sociodemographic and
personality characteristics , and introducing the effects of different affective stimuli
before, during, and after the visit . The further development of virtual destinations
might make it possible to test different pricing models, including pay-what-you-want
strategies, which currently remain underexplored in tourism research . In the case of
virtual destinations, the online environment will not be a limitation of the research since
people will behave in real, immersive destinations in a virtual experience, perceiving re-
alism, and subsequently becoming detached from the real-world environment.
Introducing virtual destinations will also have promising implications for destina-
tion marketing and management, tourism providers, and tourists. To begin, virtual desti-
nation scenarios can be used by governments and DMOs to pre-test new programs, poli-
cies, and marketing campaigns for existing and emerging destinations. Second, virtual
destinations will help to control visitation to the overdeveloped destinations by providing
opportunities to receive alternative virtual experiences. Next, virtual tourism will provide
new business opportunities for tourism providers in challenging times as well as create
new niches markets for distinct customer segments. Virtual destinations can provide op-
portunities for people who cannot visit the real destinations or vulnerable categories of
people, including low-income categories, people with disabilities , or the elderly .
Lastly, virtual destinations will satisfy tourists’ need for travel experiences during crises,
outbreaks, and potentially increase the resilience of travel destinations.
Virtual destinations will likewise bring important implications for the management
of emerging, existing, and overdeveloped destinations, tourism businesses, and tourists.
The COVID-19 pandemic creates opportunities for developing new tourism systems. The
current period of time is ideal to invite people to visit virtual destinations, which combine
advantages of realism and immersion with opportunities to design new travel scenarios
and apply different subjective and objective measures of the visitor experience . One
more promising direction of future interdisciplinary research in using virtual tourism ex-
perience is the exploration of important health , transformation [87,88], and wellbeing
outcomes [89,90] of tourism activities. Modern mobile technologies make it possible to
capture important indicators of positive feelings and health (e.g. cardiac vagal tone, elec-
trodermal activity, and facial expressions), which can be used as proxies of tourists’ well-
being as highly desirable outcomes post-COVID-19. Crises can provide a “transformative
opportunity” for rethinking industry and academic work, driving change and sparking
paradigm shifts . In this case, the pandemic has instructed that one way to move for-
ward is to move to the virtual realm.
Funding: This research received no external funding.
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