By Paola Marisela González
Already a burgeoning industry among those who want to travel overseas but either couldn’t afford to, or had time restraints, virtual travel in Japan has experienced a significant boom as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
Why Virtual Travel in Japan?
Japan’s travel restrictions have been among one of the strictest since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, but over time restrictions have been eased for foreigners with a Japanese resident permit who now are able to return to Japan if they have left since the outbreak started. However, measures like a 14-day quarantine and testing of people arriving are still in place.
Travelling inside Japan has not been forbidden, but that has not been enough for people who enjoy adventuring themselves into foreign lands. As tourism abroad has not been a suitable plan for this year, creative alternatives to travel have arisen to provide people a similar experience even if they cannot go abroad.
First Airlines: Creating Virtual Travel Experiences in Japan
First Airlines is a company offering virtual travel in Japan. Since 2018 is offering first-class and business-class travel experiences. Located in the commercial area of Ikebukuro in Tokyo, this restaurant/airline provides two-hour domestic and international virtual flights. If you want to experience Japan, they offer two different kinds of tours for every region.
One of these is focused on beautiful sceneries, while the other one is aimed for people interested in learning about Japanese history and culture. International options include trips to New York, California, Hawaii, France, Italy, Finland, Spain and New Zealand.
The flight includes meals inspired in the “destination” places, and the company claims to serve healthy and tasty dishes made of fresh ingredients. The setting incorporates real aircraft seats. The crew members are flight attendant trainees who provide high-quality service according to the omotenashi or hospitality values of the company.
Passengers are able to go on tours around their destinations using VR (virtual reality) headsets, creating an immersive experience that engages all the senses. The VR technology with the corresponding high-quality sound are used to simulate a departing and landing sensation that complements the overall flying experience.
What is the Virtual Travel Experience Like?
The entrance includes a screen displaying flight times and boarding gates. For added realism, passengers can also hear announcements that increase the airport-like feeling while they wait to board. Once in their seat, they need to fasten their seatbelt and listen to the regular safety procedures just like any other flight.
The sightseeing aspect is made possible using a range of tech devices including screens, iPads and VR headsets. Through the iPad, passengers can take a tour with 360º views of the city they have chosen to “visit”. Besides this, with the VR headsets, there’s also the option to get a 360º view of the most popular touristic landmarks at the destination. The panel screens display exterior views of the plane, so passengers can see the passing clouds.
There are many different journeys to enjoy, so many become frequent flyers, and even get a cake when celebrating a birthday or anniversary with virtual travel in Japan.
What Do Customers Think about First Airlines?
According to customer’s reviews, besides the unique overall experience provided by First Airlines, the meals are tasty and at a reasonable price. Furthermore, the flight attendants service is excellent, as it is expected from the Japanese standards of hospitality.
For those concerned about environmental issues, it offers the opportunity to “fly” and to explore new places without being concerned about increasing the carbon footprint. However, for frequent first-class travellers, the old model of the seats could be improved to provide better comfort.
If you decide to experience virtual travel in Japan, you will just need to remember to book in advance and to be on time for boarding, as it is not possible to enter once the trip has started. Even once the Covid-19 travel restrictions are lifted, this will still be a very interesting thematic experience to try out if you happen to be around Tokyo.
Flying to Nowhere: Another Travel Trend in Japan
Besides virtual travel in Japan, some other alternative ways to experience a holiday feeling have been taking place to compensate for the lack of ventures abroad due to the travel restrictions.
All Nippon Airways (ANA) launched the “Flying Honu” route, flying from and back to Narita Airport. The scenic flight takes an hour and a half and is operated in an aircraft with a special design inspired by the Hawaiian sea turtle, which is a symbol of good luck and prosperity. Approximately 300 passengers were able to purchase platinum tickets for the journey which, according to ANA, fulfilled all required safety and hygiene protocols, including wearing masks, social distancing and continuous air ventilation.
ANA is not the only airline offering this kind of experience that is becoming popular in East Asia where most borders remain largely closed. For instance, there was a Hello Kitty-themed flight with EVA Air in Taiwan, and Singapore Airlines will begin to offer three-hour flights in the next weeks. However, this might be seen as an unnecessary risk considering that these flights have sold more than half of their tickets, boarding from 200 to 300 passengers, making it difficult to keep social distance at all times.
The Future of Virtual Travel in Japan
Flights to nowhere and virtual travel in Japan are examples of possible alternatives in light of the current travel restrictions. They are also cheaper than actually travelling abroad, so it allows people who are pressed for time and money to discover new destinations. Nevertheless, safety measures are crucial to ensure that these options are a viable solution to enjoy travel during Covid-19 times.
Non-Japanese travel or tech companies can also consider offering similar virtual experiences in Japan. After all, they’re pandemic-proof and here to stay! One key strategy would be to establish a partnership with a well-respected local brand—this could really help get an engaging concept off the ground.
See also: IoT in Japan: Essential Yet Lacking?
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