In 1995, Nicholas Negroponte wrote: “Digital living will include less and less dependence upon being in a specific place at a specific time, and the transmission of place itself will start to become possible. If I could really look out the electronic window of my living room in Boston and see the Alps, hear the cowbells, and smell the (digital) manure in summer, in a way I am very much in Switzerland”.*

As founder of the MIT Media Lab, and an architect by trade, he knew what he was talking about twenty plus years ago. It’s taken quite a while to even begin to make his vision a reality, but we’re getting closer.  A while ago I wrote about virtual reality in cruise ships, where you’re actually on a real ship but in an upgraded cabin sporting a virtual balcony.

Now, as CNBC reports, a growing list of airlines and vacation spots are courting visitors with virtual reality vacation experiences offering digital options that nearly rival the real thing.

Some packages, say CNBC, include panoramic videos that can usually be viewed online, via YouTube and Facebook. Others require apps and special viewers like Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard.

If nothing else, VR can be a time-saver for travelers, said Bjorn Hanson, professor of hospitality and tourism at New York University’s Tisch Center. “They can know what to expect and can allocate time to those activities they would like to visit at the destination.”

While arguably not as good as the real thing, virtual trips “can help give people a more immersive sense of a destination, so they may then want to go and experience it firsthand themselves,” said Sebastian Naylor, online marketing director for Lonely Planet.

Potential destinations range from Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun casino and entertainment resort, to Las Vegas, British Columbia and the South Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia. All of them have VR experiences they hope will transform viewers into visitors.

Machu Picchu VR
Virtual Machu Picchu

Unfortunately, none of them offer the perfume of digital manure,  or any other aroma for that matter. Digital scent technology remains the Holy Grail of virtual reality, but it’s getting closer all the time…

*Thomas, Sue. Technobiophilia: Nature and Cyberspace, Bloomsbury 2013, p38.