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Tourism Review

Virtual reality in tourism: a state-of-the-art review

Julia Beck, Mattia Rainoldi, Roman Egger,
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Virtual reality in tourism: a state-of-the-
art review
Julia Beck, Mattia Rainoldi and Roman Egger

Abstract Julia Beck,

Purpose – Emerging technologies, such as virtual reality (VR), have been influencing both the tourism Mattia Rainoldi and
supply side and tourists alike. The purpose of this study is to analyse VR research in tourism and to Roman Egger are all based
provide a comprehensive state-of-the-art review. As the technological connotation of the term VR has at the Deparment of
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been changing and encompasses various VR systems with different capabilities, this paper aims to Innovation and
provide a systematic and structured overview. The overall objective of this paper is to contribute to a
Management in Tourism,
thorough understanding of VR research in tourism.
Salzburg University of
Design/methodology/approach – This paper comprehensively reviews and analyses existing
Applied Sciences,
literature on VR in tourism, published from 1994 to February 2018. Using a wide variety of sources,
these papers were examined so as to give a state-of-the-art literature review and to deepen one’s Salzburg, Austria.
understanding of the diverse applications of VR in a tourism context. This paper also presents a
novel classification of different VR systems according to the level of immersion and depicts their
respective technological capabilities.
Findings – The advent of new VR hardware necessitates a distinction for different VR systems applied in
the tourism sector. Research conducted during the past three years has been focussing on the
application of head-mounted displays, which reflects the temporal development of VR technology.
Regardless of the VR system, most studies examine VR as a marketing tool for promotion and
communication purposes during the pre-travel phase, focussing on behavioural aspects. Advances in
technology will yield new opportunities and application possibilities for the tourism industry.
Originality/value – The key contribution of this paper lies in its structural approach, which differentiates
between non-, semi- and fully immersive VR systems in tourism, as well as the proposition of respective
definitions. The concluding part of the paper proposes practical implications for tourism businesses
together with directions for future studies.
Keywords Virtual environment, Tourism, Virtual reality, VR, 360-degree, Immersive
Paper type Literature review

The development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has been
influencing many business sectors, and in particular, the tourism industry. Emerging ICTs
contribute in re-engineering systems and processes, by impacting operational, structural
and strategic levels (Buhalis and Egger, 2006). They alter the ways in which tourism
products and services are managed, placed and promoted on the market, which implies a
corresponding change in the way travellers get inspired, book, plan and experience travel
(Buhalis and Law, 2008; Pesonen, 2013; Neuhofer et al., 2014; Rincon et al., 2017).
Amongst potential technologies that have attracted attention in recent times are cutting-
edge immersive technologies like augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR) (Yusoff et al.,
2011) and virtual reality (VR) (Guttentag, 2010). While AR overlays the real world view with
2D or 3D computer-generated data and information (Kounavis et al., 2012), VR can be
described as a virtual computer simulated world (Desai et al., 2014). MR differs from AR
Received 21 March 2017
and VR in that it combines real and virtual objects that the user can seamlessly interact with Revised 19 July 2018
(Yusoff et al., 2011). VR is described as a technology with a wide range of applications Accepted 27 August 2018

DOI 10.1108/TR-03-2017-0049 © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1660-5373 j TOURISM REVIEW j

which are predicted to have a profound influence on the future of the tourism industry
(Guttentag, 2010; Jung et al., 2017; Tussyadiah et al., 2017; Marasco et al., 2018;
Tussyadiah et al., 2018).
Scholarly interest on the application of VR in tourism finds its roots in the 1990s (Musil and
Pigel, 1994; Cheong, 1995; Hobson and Williams, 1995). Its fundamental principles,
however, date back to the 1930s and it was only in the 1980s that the notion VR was
formulated. Hobson and Williams (1995, p.125) soon recognised the revolutionary power of
VR and described it as “potentially one of the most important technological breakthroughs
of the late 20th century”. Today, VR is still regarded a technology in its infancy that has not
yet reached mainstream adoption (Disztinger et al., 2017). However, the emergence of new
and affordable VR devices (Disztinger et al., 2017, Marchiori et al., 2017; Tussyadiah et al.,
2018), has been boosting developments and opportunities for the application of VR
(Tussyadiah et al., 2017) and demand for virtual tourism (Tavakoli and Mura, 2015). Tourism
marketers can use VR as an innovative way to provide information (Rainoldi et al., 2018;
Tussyadiah et al., 2018) and to deliver authentic experiences (Sussmann and Vanhegan,
2000; Mirk and Hlavacs, 2015; Slater and Sanchez-Vives, 2016). Considering the intangible
nature of most tourism products and services (Wang et al., 2017), VR promises to enrich the
inspiration and information phases of the customer journey by providing tourists the
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opportunity to have “a taste” of the tourism experience and to engage with trustworthy and
rich information (Disztinger et al., 2017; Marchiori et al., 2017; Tussyadiah et al., 2017;
Rainoldi et al., 2018). The use of VR is also predicted to have an impact on the on-site travel
experience (Cheong, 1995; Hobson and Williams, 1995; Guttentag, 2010) and on the post-
travel phase (Marasco et al., 2018). For example, on-site VR experiences can be provided
in museums (Loizides et al., 2014; Jung et al., 2016) and in fact, the emergence of the first
all-in-one camera rigs will soon enable tourists to capture and share user-generated VR
content after their holiday experience.
While we are witnessing rapid developments of VR technology in terms of hardware,
software and applications (Tussyadiah et al., 2017), the theoretical discussion is still based
on notions developed in the 1980s (Gutiérrez et al., 2008). As Slater and Sanchez-Vives
(2016) explain, the term VR has lately been overused. In particular, VR research in tourism
has often borrowed concepts and definitions from other industries concerned with the topic
of VR (Guttentag, 2010). So far, little attention has been paid to the different types of VR
systems. In addition, content creation approaches have further changed and advanced.
Whereas computer-generated images have been commonly used (Slater and Sanchez-
Vives, 2016), nowadays photorealistic 360-degree images have been recommended for
tourism purposes (Marasco et al., 2018). It is therefore essential to evaluate research in
travel and tourism (Guttentag, 2010) and to present an up-to-date perspective, considering
modifications that have influenced the area of VR in this context. Thus, this paper aims to
address the identified research gaps by presenting a state-of-the-art review that not only
considers but also categorises and defines different VR technologies used. This paper aims
to make a meaningful contribution to theory and professional practice by providing a new
perspective on VR in tourism. A structured overview, industry tailored definitions that
consider variations in technological capabilities, the acknowledgment of different
construction approaches and identification of new areas of interest for future research are

This paper adopts a state-of-the-art review analysis approach to synthesise and
comprehensively analyse current literature on a specific topic and to identify priorities for
future research (Grant and Booth, 2009; Law et al., 2012). As Grant and Booth (2009, p. 95)
posit a state-of-the-art review “tend[s] to address more current matters in contrast to other
combined retrospective and current approaches. [It] may offer new perspectives on [an]

issue [. . .]”. A state-of-the-art review is of interest for readers who are either seeking to
identify potential opportunities for contemporary research or are new to an area. It should
allow readers to identify the most salient points within a topic from a single review article. As
such, a comprehensive review is of value for both tourism practitioners and research
scholars as it allows for the identification of gaps in the body of knowledge (Grant and
Booth, 2009; Law et al., 2012). A potential limitation of a state-of-the-art review can be a
trade-off between scope width and content depth (Papathanassis, 2017). To overcome
such limitations Law et al. (2012) suggest limiting the period of analysis. This is because
conducting this sort of review that takes into account research outcomes over a lengthy
period of time may fail to capture latest trends and developments. This inadequacy was
also identified when it came to the topic under research. Despite a number of studies
discussing the overall topic of VR, current literature on VR applications in a tourism context
lacks an in-depth review and analysis taking latest technological developments into
account. This paper aims therefore to address this issue.
In contrast to other studies, such as the one by Guttentag (2010) which used various
application fields as a way of subdivision, this paper adopts a different method and
distinguishes within the different VR systems (non-, semi-, fully-immersive). It was found that
most studies on VR in tourism do not specify the availability of different VR systems, but
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most commonly only describe the specific system that was researched. This can lead to
confusion and misunderstanding, as the connotation of the term VR encompasses various
systems that differ in their technological capabilities and applications. To overcome this
constraint, a classification framework can be developed. By organising objects, things,
accumulated knowledge and concepts into categories, an isolated, detailed analysis of
each category can be conducted. The classification into different categories enables ease
of access and comparison and the detection of relationships between the categories (Groß,
2015; Gerber et al., 2017). Therefore, a classification approach that considers the
development and alteration of VR technology over time and structures research according
to technological capabilities is offered. Based on the defined categories, the provision of
corresponding definitions for the different VR systems applied in tourism complete the
For this purpose, Science Direct and Google Scholar, which are known as two of the
“largest and most popular online databases and search engines” (Law et al., 2010,
p. 298), were used from January 2017 to February 2018 to search for peer reviewed
articles and conference proceedings that were published during the past 20 years
(1998-2018). In searching for resources, a range of keyword combinations, including
VR tourism, VR tourism, VR technology in tourism, immersive tourism, 360-degree
tourism, virtual tourism and virtual environment (VE) in tourism, among others, were
Inclusion criteria focussed on substantive criteria (the references had to be published
in the context of the travel and tourism domain), publication genre (peer reviewed
conference proceedings and journal articles) and formal criteria (it was an inclusion
criterion that the studies described the respective VR technology in its technological
capabilities). According to this framework, an exclusion criterion extended to papers
that dealt with related technologies such as AR. Resources also had to be available in
full-text format.
An initial number of 59 references served as a starting point for the review. Following that,
duplicates and articles that did not match the inclusion criteria were removed. After a
careful screening, a total of 27 articles remained for this study. Each of the selected articles
was reviewed and classified according to the proposed framework of non-, semi-, and fully-
immersive VR. Table AI (see Appendix) provides a structured overview on the reviewed

Virtual reality
In literature the term VR is used inconsistently (Dörner et al., 2013). In general, the term
describes systems that provide synthetic experiences. However, it is also used to refer to
the experience itself (Kim, 2005) or to a form of communication akin to language (Pujol,
2004). The term VR is also commonly used to depict the technology in terms of its specific
devices. The rapid evolution of underlying hardware explains why this approach might not
be expedient (Steuer, 1992; LaValle, 2016; Marchiori et al., 2017), as systems comprising of
different key characteristics would be condensed under the same term. Scholars have often
used the term VR to illustrate humans’ wish to escape from the real world and go anywhere
or do anything according to their desires (Ijsselsteijn and Riva, 2003; Desai et al., 2014).
Following this line of thinking, Hobson and Williams (1995, p.128) argue that “VR is the
computer-generated medium that gives people the feeling that they are being transported
from a physical world to a world of imagination” while Desai et al. (2014, p.175) define VR as
“a computer simulated [3D] environment that gives the user the experience of being
present in that environment”. It can, therefore, be argued that VR conveys a sense of
escapism to the user. However, according to Guttentag (2010) VR not only enables users to
escape from their everyday life but also stimulates one’s senses and provides opportunities
for virtual interaction.
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VR is based on the concepts of immersion and presence, which also distinguish it from
other forms of media (Slater and Sanchez-Vives, 2016). Immersion is an objective construct
that explains the physical configuration, whereas presence is a subjective construct
(Gutiérrez et al., 2008; Slater and Sanchez-Vives, 2016). Slater and Wilbur (1997) explain
immersion as a measurable aspect of display technology that comprises of the following
four determinants: inclusive (the degree to which the physical reality is omitted),
surrounding (extent to which the display allows a panoramic view), extensive (variety of
sensory modalities accommodated), and vivid (aspects such as resolution and fidelity).
Presence is a product of the mind which is not bound to any specific technology and
describes the feeling of “being there” (Ijsselsteijn and Riva, 2003). The user should forget
about the physical world and experience the VE as the more engaging one (Slater and
Wilbur, 1997). Research shows that the more sophisticated the VR technology, the higher
the degree of immersion and the level of presence (Dörner and Steinicke, 2013; Diemer
et al., 2015). It can be summarised that the intensity of the immersion in the VE and the level
of involvement and interactivity in it are crucial for the realisation of presence (see also
Heeter, 1992; Steuer, 1992; Slater and Usoh, 1993; Ijsselsteijn and Riva, 2003; Kim, 2005).

Virtual reality in tourism – a comprehensive overview

The potential of VR to revolutionise and redefine the tourism industry has long been
recognised (Hobson and Williams, 1995; Williams and Hobson, 1995). Today, as virtual
digital worlds increasingly permeate the lives of tourists, their use is becoming pivotal to the
tourism industry (Mura et al., 2017). In tourism, VR finds application in multiple areas
including planning and management, marketing and information exchange, entertainment,
education, accessibility and heritage preservation (Guttentag, 2010; Wiltshier and Clarke,
A widely-discussed topic is the application of VR to complement or even substitute tourism
products (Musil and Pigel, 1994; Hobson and Williams, 1995; Williams and Hobson, 1995;
Gutiérrez et al., 2008; Guttentag, 2010; Huang et al., 2015; Mura et al., 2017). This is
because in a VR environment all variables could be modified in the attempt to construct the
perfect virtual tourist experience (Slater and Sanchez-Vives, 2016). Although it is difficult to
forecast to what extent VR will substitute tourism in the future, it is important to acknowledge
that VR could constitute a threat for countries depending on the revenue generated by the
tourism industry (Cheong, 1995). On the other hand, VR can contribute to sustainability as it

constitutes a low cost and environmentally friendly way of travelling (Wiltshier and Clarke,
2016). Through VR tourists have the possibility to visit protected or dangerous tourism sites
that cannot be visited, to experience sites and attractions that do not exist anymore
(Hobson and Williams, 1995; Sussmann and Vanhegan, 2000; Egger, 2016) or even to
immerse themselves in places that simply do not exist at all, as for instance fantasy worlds
(Cheong, 1995). Furthermore, VR removes accessibility barriers for elderly or disabled
travellers (Hobson and Williams, 1995; Salter and Sanchez-Vives, 2016). Questions have
been raised about the authenticity of virtual travel (Hobson and Williams, 1995; Dewailly,
1999). In this regard, it has been found that the acceptance of VR as a tourism substitute
largely depends upon the receptivity of the individual tourist (Guttentag, 2010). Even though
authenticity can be experienced within VEs, virtual forms of tourism are considered to be
less authentic than real travel experiences (Mura et al., 2017). To conclude, virtual travel
can be understood as an alternative type of tourism or a way to enhance tourism
experiences (Musil and Pigel 1994; Hobson and Williams, 1995; Sussmann and Vanhegan,
2000; Guttentag, 2010; Mura et al., 2017; Slater and Sanchez-Vives, 2016) rather than a
proper travel substitute.
Irrespective of the travel phase and purpose of the VR application, immersive images for
tourism purposes can be conceptualised as simulated (3D) models of both real and
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imaginary places (Cooper and MacNeil, 2008; Tavakoli and Mura, 2015). As the
reproduction of reality is not necessarily considered the goal of VR (Slater and Sanchez-
Vives, 2016), both synthetically generated and real-captured images can be used to create
VEs. Historically, VR has been based on computer-generated virtual worlds. However, in
recent years real-world spherical panoramic 360-degree images and videos, also known as
360-degree VR (Slater and Sanchez-Vives, 2016), has gained momentum in the creation of
VR content and VR experiences (LaValle, 2016). Multiple overlapping images are stitched
together to create 360-degree panoramic views, enabling the user to change viewing
perspective allowing for a sense of verisimilitude (Cooper and MacNeil, 2008). However,
while synthetic environments enable the user to move freely inside the simulated space,
360-degree VR offers limited interaction and movement possibilities within the VE (Fineschi
and Pozzebon, 2015). Despite limited interaction possibilities, 360-degree virtual content is
still regarded as VR (Slater and Sanchez-Vives, 2016). A 360-degree VR is particularly
applicable for large-scale scenes and distant objects (Slater and Sanchez-Vives, 2016),
such as for the provision of realistic views and walk-throughs of outdoor scenes or
accommodation establishments (Cooper and MacNeil, 2008). Even though it has been
argued that the reproduction of reality is not essential for the provision of a VE, realistic and
authentic content is crucial for the tourism industry. From this perspective, Marasco et al.
(2018) suggest the creation of photorealistic 360-degree virtual content to provide
prospective travellers a sneak-preview of a destination or access to a virtual heritage site.
Both synthetic and 360-degree content has been the subject of scholarly inquiry over the
covered time span of this study. Taking recent technological developments into
consideration, it is apparent that studies researched different VR output devices for
displaying the VR content. According to the criteria regarding the concept of immersion and
the technical capabilities, particularly enabling visual immersion, the consensus among
scholars is a differentiation of three systems: fully-, semi-, and non-immersive VR.
Carrozzino and Bergamasco (2010) incorporate the level of invasiveness to ascribe VR
systems to a category, whereby non-wearable devices are considered less invasive than
wearable ones and, therefore, more immersive. Hence, VR systems, such as cave
automatic VEs (CAVEs) are considered more immersive than head-mounted displays
(HMDs). There is little corroboration elsewhere in literature that supports the views of
Carrozzino and Bergamasco (2010). Indeed, scholars seem to have found a consensus
about the idea that the less the user can perceive of the real world on the outside, the more
immersive the system (Kim, 2005; Gutiérrez et al., 2008; Slater and Sanchez-Vives, 2016).

This is also in accordance with the aforementioned determinants of display technology
explained by Slater and Wilbur (1997) that state the higher the degree to which physical
reality is omitted, the more inclusive is the technology, implying that CAVE systems are to
be categorised as semi-immersive.
In line with this view, HMDs are to be considered fully-immersive systems, as they enable a
complete isolation of the user from the real world. On the contrary, in semi- and non-
immersive VEs the user still has some contact with the real world (Gutiérrez et al., 2008),
which is also true for other immersive technologies such as AR or MR, where digital
information augments real-life contexts (Azuma et al., 2001). Virtual experiences with an
HMD are often designed as single user experiences (Guttentag, 2010) in which users are
isolated from external stimuli while the visual field constantly updates according to one’s
movements (Slater and Sanchez-Vives, 2016). Desai et al. (2014, p.175) describe HMDs
enabled virtual experiences as “a new form of human machine interaction that is beyond
keyboard, mouse or even touch screen for that matter. It is a means by which one can
interact with full visual immersion”.
On the other hand, semi-immersive systems consist of a large screen monitor or multiple
projection screens that project images onto the walls and the floor of a room which are often
accompanied by 3D sound. Semi-immersive VR systems are generally designed with the
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purpose of providing a multi-user experience. Non-immersive VR systems, also known as

desktop-based VR, represent the most common, simplest and easiest way of accessing VR
applications (Gutiérrez et al., 2008; Carrozzino and Bergamasco, 2010; Dörner et al., 2013).
With a conventional computer screen, a 3D space is simulated and the user can observe
and interact with the virtual world via a mouse, keyboard or other external devices (Dörner
et al., 2013; Liu et al., 2016).
Huang et al. (2015) emphasise that results from studies examining non-immersive systems
may not be applicable to other VEs. Slater and Sanchez-Vives (2016, p.37) argue that the
term “VR has been overused, when scientific papers are often simply talking about a PC
display with a mouse”. This is supported by Guttentag (2010) who states that many tourism
providers offer “VR-type technologies” (p. 641) that are not genuine VR. While Steuer (1992)
raises the concern that a device-driven definition of VR might not be acceptable, the advent
of high-resolution and low-cost portable wireless VR headsets with built-in head tracking
(Munster et al., 2015; Slater and Sanchez-Vives, 2016; Disztinger et al., 2017, Marchiori
et al., 2017; Tussyadiah et al., 2018) requires a classification of VR systems depicting their
technological capabilities. While most of the aforementioned studies dealing with the topic
of VR in tourism provide a general definition for VR, they fail to define VR in a tourism
context. Hence, according to the level of immersion, general definitions for VR (Hobson and
Williams, 1995; Gutiérrez et al., 2008; Guttentag, 2010; Desai et al., 2014; Slater and
Sanchez-Vives, 2016), and the consideration that technologies are used along the whole
customer journey (Tussyadiah and Fesenmaier, 2009; Guttentag, 2010; Neuhofer et al.,
2012; Slater and Sanchez-Vives, 2016; Wiltshier and Clarke, 2016), a tourism tailored
definition of VR is provided. To this end, the overall concept of VR in tourism in the present
contribution is discussed with the following definition offered:
Virtual Reality (VR), in a tourism context, creates a virtual environment (VE) by the provision of
synthetic or 360-degree real life captured content with a capable non-, semi-, or fully-immersive
VR system, enabling virtual touristic experiences that stimulate the visual sense and potentially
additional other senses of the user for the purpose of planning, management, marketing,
information exchange, entertainment, education, accessibility or heritage preservation, either
prior to, during or after travel.

Following this definition, Figure 1 presents a classification framework depicting the level of
immersion, which also provides a structure for the subsequent review. A comprehensive
and structured overview of relevant studies for non-, semi-, and fully-immersive VR in

Figure 1 Classification framework for VR applications in tourism

VR in tourism

Non-immersive VR Semi-immersive VR Fully-immersive VR

in tourism in tourism in tourism

tourism is given in Table AI. This overview offers a structured picture of specifications of the
VR system studied and type of content applied, used methodology, independent and
dependent variables and major findings. In the following sections, corresponding definitions
for the different VR systems in a tourism context are given, before findings focussing on
practical implications for tourism practitioners are discussed.
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Non-immersive virtual reality in tourism

According to the literature review, the working definition of non-immersive VR in tourism
goes as follows: Non-immersive VR (niVR) displays synthetic or 360-degree real-life
captured content on a conventional (computer) screen, enabling virtual touristic
experiences that stimulate the visual sense and potentially other senses of the user for the
purpose of planning, management, marketing, information exchange, entertainment,
education, accessibility or heritage preservation, either prior to, during, and/or after travel.
Nine research studies undertaken from 2007 to 2015 were included in the review dealing
with niVR. Table I gives an overview about the studies in focus, providing the names of the
author(s), the year of publication and the methodology adopted.niVR systems, such as
Second Life (Huang et al., 2013a) or Web-based virtual tours (Wan et al., 2007; Lee and
Ahn, 2012), can be used by destination marketing organisations, hotels or other tourism
stakeholders for communication and attention-capturing purposes (Hyun and O’Keefe,
2012). They enable the virtual tourist to “experience” the destination prior to the actual visit
and transform experiential attributes into searchable ones. For example, research on theme
parks has demonstrated that virtual tour experiences lead to better advertising effects when
compared with traditional brochures (Wan et al., 2007). Chiou et al. (2008) suggest that
consumers’ cognitive preferences are decisive when it comes to the advertising effects of
brochures in comparison to virtual experiences. Whereas verbalisers prefer the traditional
use of brochures, virtual experiences are preferred by visualisers. Hyun and O’Keefe (2012)

Table I Overview of studies addressing non-immersive VR in tourism

Author(s)/Year Methodology

Huang et al. (2015) Experiment and online questionnaire

Tavakoli and Mura (2015) Participant observation, online interviews, online chats
Huang et al. (2013a) Experiment and online questionnaire
Huang et al. (2013b) Experiment and online questionnaire
Huang et al. (2012) Experiment and questionnaire
Hyun and O’Keefe (2012) Web survey
Lee and Ahn (2012) Experiment and online questionnaire
Chiou et al. (2008) Experiment
Wan et al. (2007) Experiment and questionnaire

also compared two different types of information. Studying the concept of presence, they
found that web-mediated virtual information has a positive impact on presence, whereas
offline information does not. Furthermore, they identified presence as an influencing variable
on the virtual cognitive but not on the virtual affective image. When it comes to travel
security concerns, evidence was found suggesting that an embedded virtual tour on a
website may result in greater psychological relief for travellers and positively influences trust
and risk-taking (Lee and Ahn, 2012). However, Wan et al. (2007) draw attention to the fact
that an arbitrary usage of new media types for advertisement purposes may not always be
the correct strategy. A wide range of factors such as budget or promoted targets also need
to be carefully considered.
The “process of an optimal experience” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1977) can be described with the
flow theory. Huang et al. (2012) investigated this theory for virtual experiences and found
that it supports the understanding of users’ experiences while navigating a VE. Flow is a
mediating variable between involvement and people’s travel intentions. It has been
demonstrated that the achievement of flow leading to an enhancement of virtual tourists’
flow experience may result in the development of travel intentions. The key factors
contributing to the achievement of flow are the users’ perceived levels of skill, interactivity
and experienced presence in the virtual world (Huang et al., 2012).
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For a better understanding of the tourists’ use of the VE and its influence on travel intentions,
the technology acceptance model (TAM) is considered another useful and practical
framework (Huang et al., 2013a; Huang et al., 2015). Positive emotions, emotional
involvement and the experience of flow during the virtual exploration can be on the one
hand, enhanced by perceived ease of use and usefulness and on the other hand, influence
one’s intention on whether to visit the actual site or not (Huang et al., 2013a).
After a scrutiny of the Self-Determination theory, it was found that a greater perception of
autonomy and relatedness while experiencing a 3D touristic VE, has a twofold positive
influence on travel intention and the enjoyment of the virtual experience (Huang et al., 2015).
Those variables are also positively related to intrinsic motivation in educational tourism VEs.
Higher levels of student interest in online activities and a greater level of perceived
connectedness with others can enhance learning motivation (Huang et al., 2013b).
Furthermore, niVR systems also provide a tool for educational and training purposes for
tourism professionals and educators. Real-world simulations, social interactions or
collaborative spaces can be depicted within a VE (Huang et al., 2013b).
In niVR, tourists have the opportunity to choose an avatar to represent themselves within the
virtual tourism destination. The choice of an avatar can be a time-consuming but important
process, as the avatars’ appearance is considered as crucial. To a certain degree,
travelling within VEs can be regarded as a form of escapism from ordinary routines. Cultural
and religious values play an important role while visiting a virtual destination. However, niVR
provides the opportunity to challenge certain stereotypes (Tavakoli and Mura, 2015).
The most recent study concerning niVR covered in this review is from the year 2015. Hence,
latest technological developments for capturing 360-degree footage and its application for
niVR in tourism should be addressed in further research efforts.

Semi-immersive virtual reality in tourism

Derived from the literature review, the following definition of semi-immersive VR in tourism is
suggested: Semi-immersive VR (siVR) projects synthetic or 360-degree real-life captured
content onto large screen monitors or the walls, and optional also to the floor, of a room,
enabling multi-user virtual touristic experiences that stimulate the visual sense and
potentially other senses of the user the purpose of planning, management, marketing,
information exchange, entertainment, education, accessibility or heritage preservation,
either prior to, during, and/or after travel.

Studies published from 1998 to 2014 are considered pertinent to this review. It was found
that the distinction between niVR and siVR is not always clear. Groß (2015) mentions that an
explicit assignment of each article might not be possible with a classification approach and
hence some articles could be assigned to more than one category. While it could be argued
that some studies assigned to siVR (such as Pantano and Servidio, 2009, 2011; Zarzuela
et al., 2013) could also be classified as niVR, every application that goes beyond the
utilisation of a conventional computer screen and also includes the possibility of a multi-user
application was assigned to siVR.
Most of the reviewed studies concerning siVR (Table II) deal with on-site applications for
heritage (be it cultural or ecological) preservation or presentation. Pantano and Servidio
(2009, 2011) focus on pervasive environments that use virtual 3D reconstructions of
destinations. It was found that study participants were inclined to visit the actual place,
mainly to compare the reconstructed site with the real one. Participants saw the potential of
siVR as a marketing and promotional tool and consider it better than traditional guides that
are based on static content (Pantano and Servidio, 2011). Interactivity of the siVR system
and quality of 3D imagery was considered an important aspect. This is confirmed by the
study done by Loizides et al. (2014), which compares a semi-immersive with a fully-
immersive VE in a museum context. Hence, Pantano and Servidio (2011) conclude that
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quality of images, ease of interaction and interaction modality are essential factors for the
efficient provision of digital tourism information.
Designing eBrochures or eCatalogues as siVRs could influence potential tourists in their
evaluation of tourism destinations, by enabling them to virtually try out the tourism
experience in advance. Pervasive environments provide an increased level of authenticity,
which could minimise the risks of making a flawed decision related to destination choice
(Pantano and Servidio, 2011).
Studying semi-immersive and fully-immersive VEs, Loizides et al. (2014) found that
participants spent more time within the semi-immersive VE. However, they indicate that with
a more developed HMD that provides higher resolution, results might change. Independent
of the VR system, they conclude the following practical implications for the provision of VR
in a museum context. First, the application of keyboards for navigation is not recommended.
Second, when incorporating videos in a virtual experience, it is crucial to include a pause
button and indicate the duration of the video. Third, in the design of the VE it is important to
understand that virtual items, once seen, are rarely re-visited.
Carrozzino and Bergamasco (2010) suggest that pleasant and significant virtual
experiences are provided by CAVE systems that allow natural interaction without involving
too many cognitive resources. Such systems are often complex and require not only large
spaces and additional maintenance but also substantial financial and human resources.
Therefore, it is of importance to analyse target group, aims, and available resources before
taking the decision to invest in siVR.

Table II Overview of studies addressing semi-immersive VR in tourism

Author(s) (Year) Methodology

Loizides et al. (2014)a Experiment, think aloud protocol, questionnaire, semi-structured interviews
Zarzuela et al. (2013) Experiment
Pantano and Servidio (2011) Experiment and questionnaire
Carrozzino and Bergamasco (2010) In-depth surveys, questionnaires, own experience
Pantano and Servidio (2009) n.a.
Refsland et al. (1998) n.a.
Note: aStudy deals with semi- and fully-immersive VR

Refsland et al. (1998) suggest using semi-immersive installations for environmental
preservation purposes, which facilitate visitors with an immersive discovery tool. By
connecting the real environment to the virtual one, a sense of authenticity is conveyed. It is
further argued that behavioural realism, and in particular autonomy of avatars, is of
importance for virtual tourists. A complex interactive environment can be created by
facilitating two-way interactivity, meaning that visitors interact with computer-generated
subjects and the other way around.
Researching the topic of education from a tourist perspective, Zarzuela et al. (2013)
developed a VR Serious Game for tourism promotion. Interaction with the VE did not
happen via mouse or keyboard, but rather with a Kinect device, used for motion capturing.
Their approach demonstrates that siVR can be used to provide a fun and entertaining
learning experience. As the system is not only intuitive but also relatively economical and
uncomplicated in terms of installation, they recommended the usage of this application to
tourist information offices.
The authors would suggest that future research could focus on investigating technology-
related models, such as the TAM, and VR-specific constructs, such as the concept of
presence. Further research fields, like the application of siVR during the post-travel phase,
are discussed in the section “Major findings, recommendations and future perspectives”.
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Fully-immersive VR in tourism
Fully-immersive VR in tourism is hereinafter defined as the following: Fully-immersive VR
(fiVR) isolates the user completely from the real world by providing synthetic or 360-degree
real-life captured content with a VR headset, facilitating full visual immersion, and enabling
virtual touristic experiences that potentially stimulate additional other senses of the user for
the purpose of planning, management, marketing, information exchange, entertainment,
education, accessibility or heritage preservation, either prior to, during, and/or after travel.
The reviewed studies dealing with fiVR (see Table III) were published from 2016 to 2018.
Research by Loizides et al., which also covered siVR, was conducted in 2014. To fully
understand and interpret studies concerning fiVR systems, a further distinction within this
domain is necessary. Three types of VR headsets are differentiated:

1. wired HMDs, such as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive;

2. wireless HMDs, such as the Samsung Gear VR; and

3. low-immersion HMDs, such as Google Cardboard (Munster et al., 2015; Tussyadiah

et al., 2018).

Table III Overview of studies addressing fully-immersive VR in tourism

Author(s)/ (Year) Methodology Type of HMD

Beck and Egger (2018)a Experiment, questionnaire Wireless

Marasco et al. (2018) Pilot test, questionnaire Wired
Rainoldi et al. (2018) Experiment, questionnaire Wireless
Tussyadiah et al. (2018) Experiment, questionnaire Wireless, low-immersion
Disztinger et al. (2017) Questionnaire Different HMDs
Griffin et al. (2017)a Experiment, questionnaire Wired
Marchiori et al. (2017) Experiment, questionnaire Wired
Tussyadiah et al. (2017) Experiment, online questionnaire Wireless, low-immersion
Jung et al. (2017) Experiment, semi-structured interview Wireless
Jung et al. (2016) Experiment, questionnaire Wireless
Potter et al. (2016) Experiment Low-immersion
Tussyadiah et al. (2016) Experiment, focus group/interviews Low-immersion
Note: aStudy deals with fully- and non-immersive VR

This distinction is also depicted in Table AI. Study results by Tussyadiah et al. (2017) and
Tussyadiah et al. (2018) suggest that the application of less sophisticated devices, such as
low-immersion headsets, lead to experiences comparable to those offered by wireless
HMDs. However, no matter which type of VR headset is used, the provision of aesthetically
pleasing imagery is recommended (Tussyadiah et al., 2016).
A widely discussed topic is the use of fiVR in tourism marketing. While Tussyadiah et al.
(2016) found that traditional travel guides are considered more powerful than fiVR
experiences, other studies show that fiVR is an effective tool in tourism marketing. It can
lead to a stronger interest, positive attitude towards the destination and positive influence
on the decision-making process (Griffin et al., 2017; Jung et al., 2017; Tussyadiah et al.,
2017; Marasco et al., 2018; Rainoldi et al., 2018; Tussyadiah et al., 2018). This is also
supported by Marchiori et al. (2017), who explain that fiVR in tourism marketing is capable
of creating curiosity and willingness to view the fiVR promotional experience. Similarly, Beck
and Egger (2018) found that most study participants believe that fiVR is the future of tourism
marketing. The intent to share the advertisement experience with others or to recommend
the destination is greater if the destination is promoted in VR rather than on a website with
static photos or 2D videos (Griffin et al., 2017). The provision of target-group relevant VR
content to positively influence self-reported emotions and decision-making is further
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recommended (Beck and Egger, 2018). Additionally, Jung et al. (2016), elaborate on how
fiVR can be used as a substitute for tourism experiences on-site, but also as a tool to
enhance the tourist’s experience. VR can be applied for interactive provision of information
to visitors or for site enrichment, which then offers added value to the tourist (Potter et al.,
2016).Further research efforts by Jung et al. (2016), Tussyadiah et al. (2016, 2017), Rainoldi
et al. (2018) and Tussyadiah et al. (2018), examined the concept of presence. A certain
level of presence, which can be enhanced by including easily recognisable artefacts or
presenting destinations in a creative way, is necessary to support the persuasive power of
fiVR (Tussyadiah et al., 2016). Compared to a traditional brochure, fiVR enables a greater
degree of interactivity and hence, generates a stronger sense of “being there” (Rainoldi
et al., 2018). The higher the level of attention allocation to the fiVR experience, the greater
the level of perceived presence (Tussyadiah et al., 2017). Spatial presence was studied by
the dimensions of departure (being somewhere other than the actual environment) and self-
location in a VE (Tussyadiah et al., 2017) and by the dimensions of possible actions and
again self-location (Tussyadiah et al., 2018). Spatial presence not only has a positive effect
on the enjoyment of the VR experience, but also positively impacts post-VR attitude change
towards tourism destinations. Results show that it further also positively affects the intention
to visit the destination, for both first time visitation and revisit intention. Social presence is a
strong predictor of four realms of Experience Economy in mixed environments (VR and AR).
Except for aesthetics, education, escapism, and most notably entertainment, significantly
influence visitor experience, which in turn influences the intention to re-visit the (real)
museum (Jung et al., 2016).
After examining the TAM, results showed that general interest for the fiVR technology is the
strongest predictor of behavioural intentions. Enjoyment of the technology and the level of
immersion influence the intention to use fiVR for travel planning (Disztinger et al., 2017).
Research findings also suggest that perceived comfort and ease of use are key
characteristics having an influence on the adoption of HMD VR devices (Jung et al., 2017).
Besides considering time spent within VEs and behavioural intentions, studying biophysical
data revealed that an increase in heart rate tended to correspond to the most deeply
impressionable scenes, such as scenes that were characterised by an unusual horizon
perspective (e.g. flight on hot air balloon). Other media characteristics, such as animated
elements in the scene or sound effects, could support the ability to recall a scene
experienced in VR (Marchiori et al., 2017). This is supported by Jung et al. (2017), who
emphasise that sound is a crucial element of the overall virtual experience. To enrich
tourists’ overall experience within a VE, avatars and 3D animations (Jung et al., 2016) and

the aforementioned unusual horizon perspectives are considered appropriate methods.
Also, Marasco et al. (2018) emphasise the importance of visually attractive VR experiences,
as the visual appeal positively influences the virtual tourists’ intention to visit the destination.
Having analysed subjective and objective emotional reactions for a 360-degree destination
video with either a fiVR or a niVR system, it was found that fiVR leads to more intense
physiological emotions (e.g. heart rate and electrodermal activity). However, no differences
were found for subjective self-report measures (Beck and Egger, 2018), indicating that the
type of VR system would not be considered an influencing variable. Interestingly, results of
a study conducted by Griffin et al. (2017) show that participants viewing a destination video
with a HMD rated the affective destination image higher than those viewing the video on a
2D level or visiting a website with static photos, which might be attributed to a possible
novelty effect. They suggest combining VR in tourism marketing with a more traditional call
to action marketing. Investigating emotional involvement during the virtual experience,
Marasco et al. (2018) found that it is positively influenced by the perceived visual appeal of
the virtual experience.
Finally, motion sickness (Williams and Hobson, 1995), also referred to as cyber
sickness (Slater and Sanchez-Vives, 2016) or simulator sickness, which is described as
fatigue or sickness resulting from VR experiences that overwhelm the senses and brain,
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have often been attributed to sub-optimal VR hardware variables or improperly

designed content (LaValle, 2016). Regarding content presentation, both real captured
360-degree footage and synthetic reconstructions can be used (Marchiori et al., 2017).
The occurrence of motion sickness was only mentioned in the studies by Loizides et al.
(2014), Potter et al. (2016) and Jung et al. (2017), as a cause for concern. Loizides et al.
(2014) also investigated time spent within the VE but did not find a correlation with
motion sickness.
Participants who took part in the study by Loizides et al. (2014) had no time restrictions
for exploring the semi- and fully immersive VE. Other studies did not consider exposure
time as a dependent or independent variable. Therefore, further research focussing on
the time spent within fiVR in a tourism context and its consequences would be of
importance, to give tourism practitioners a piece of advice on the duration of their VR
Another interesting field of research would be the field of travel security concerns, as
studied by Lee and Ahn (2012) for niVR. As fi-VR is of particular relevance in the areas of
education and training (Guttentag, 2010; Slater and Sanchez-Vives, 2016), the influence of
its’ application in a travel and tourism context could be investigated. Further research areas,
dealing with fiVR, but also niVR and siVR, are addressed in the next section.

Major findings, recommendations and future perspectives

VR is rapidly becoming a creator of new tourism experiences aiming as a source of
information, entertainment, education, accessibility and heritage preservation. At the same
time, the technological development of VR, in all its forms, provides opportunities for
destinations, hospitality business and attractions along all phases of the customers’ journey.
In this perspective, this state-of-the-art review contributes to theory and professional
practice by providing a structured understanding of the use of VR in the tourism field and
proposing a novel classification and of VR systems accompanied with tailored definitions.
By shedding light on the fundamental characteristics of niVR, siVR and fiVR, the findings of
this study will serve as a framework for future studies in the area and as a guideline for
industry practitioners in integrating VR as a tool that is part of their value proposition. The
applied classification approach should support practitioners in first, understanding the
differences of available VR systems and second, to assist them in identifying the potential of
VR technologies in shaping tourists’ behaviour and travel decision-making. By creating a

link between VR typologies, application areas and outcomes (see Table AI), this state-of-
the-art review poses a base for a timely and informed development of tourism products and
services. While the results are useful to better understand the role of different VR technology
in tourism, they also evidenced a number of areas for scholarly and practical advancement.
The temporal development of VR systems is reflected in the conducted research. Whereas
research up to the year 2013 focusses mainly on niVR, studies conducted from 2016 to
2018 focus on fiVR, which is attributable to recent advances in VR technology and the
advent of low-cost HMDs. Most studies for niVR used Second Life as a VE. It has been
suggested that other virtual world platforms should be included as well, such as Active
World or OpenSim (Huang et al., 2013b), to generate a greater understanding on the topic.
Research on siVR in a tourism context is scarce and focusses on heritage or environmental
preservation and presentation. Application and research of VR experiences on-site provide
numerous examples in a museum context, but investigation of other application fields is
lacking. Pioneering tourism businesses could profit from integrating VR as a tool that is part
of their value proposition. They should, however, decide on the appropriate VR technology
according to the resources available and the customers’ needs.
To date, there has been only limited research on VR applications for tourism planning,
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management and education. Although it has been argued that the application of VR in the
area of education is vast (Slater and Sanchez-Vives, 2016), VR research in tourism in an
educational context is rare, particularly for fiVR. Research has most commonly examined
the pre-travel phase, using VR as a marketing tool for promotion and communication
purposes and therefore end up investigating variables such as travel planning, behavioural
intentions or attitude. Study results suggest that VR, regardless of whether it is non-, semi-
or fully immersive, is capable of positively influencing the individual motivation to actually
visit a place. Conducted experiments rarely used techniques, such as treadmills or
exoskeletons, to track physical user motion. Loizides et al. (2014) do not recommend the
utilisation of keyboards for navigating in semi-immersive VEs. Other studies did not focus
specifically on the application and usability of input devices such as mouse, keyboards or
controllers. It is therefore recommended that future studies investigate different input
devices for the different VR systems. Furthermore, experiments were seldom designed as
field experiments and the majority used convenience sampling, which does not allow one to
generalise the findings. Behavioural intentions or decision-making has been commonly
researched; however, studies directly at the point-of-sales could reveal different results. VR
systems might in fact develop into supplementary point-of-sales for tourism businesses.
Therefore, future research should focus on studies conducted at the point-of-sales, which
would be of value for both tourism researchers and professionals. In this context, resources
needed for the provision of VR in tourism are important. While Carrozzino and Bergamasco
(2010) indicate substantial financial, human and space resources, Zarzuela et al. (2013)
mention modest financial and human resources for siVR. For niVR, Wan et al. (2007) point
out that the budget available has to be considered. Hence, a study on resource investments
for the different VR categories would be considered valuable for tourism practitioners.
Associated with this proposed research area is also the design of VEs, as they can either be
designed for experience-based or transaction-based purposes (Cho et al., 2002).
According to Cho et al. (2002), tourism marketers should consider computer skills involved
and challenges users might face. In particular, a high degree of involvement and flow may
end up being distracting in purchase-related activities within (non-immersive) VEs. Usability
studies ought to be done, with a focus on researching the interaction with fiVR systems as
the display technology is fully inclusive. It would be crucial to investigate purchase-related
activities not only from a user perspective, but also from a tourism provider perspective. An
examination of distribution channels for VR tourism content and implementation of call to
action strategies in marketing will move research in this area forward.

Recurring research fields are for instance the TAM and the concept of presence, which
has been studied for niVR and fiVR. The ease of use is a determining variable. It has
been suggested that VR applications ought to be designed in an intuitive way that
allows users a convenient handling and does not require many cognitive resources.
This can positively influence the level of enjoyment. Involvement and interactivity are
variables contributing to a higher level of presence within the VE. Additionally, if the
virtual tourism environment is perceived as useful, users are more likely to use the VR
technology for travel planning and/or behavioural intentions to visit the destination. As
for fiVR general interest in the technology is the strongest predictor of behavioural
intentions for usage, hence it is crucial for tourism managers and marketers to
investigate if their target groups show interest in VR.
Additionally, to further promote the acceptance of VR, and particularly fiVR, in tourism, it is
important to provide high quality images to avoid motion sickness, which could lead users
to prefer traditional media such as travel guides or brochures. Other media characteristics,
such as an unusual perspective, should be considered when designing a VR experience.
Guttentag (2010) also indicates that the nature of the VR experience must be taken into
account, as designing a VE in which the virtual tourist is an observer may be easier to
realise than one in which a touristic activity must be re-created. For tourism purposes, low-
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immersion or wireless headsets can be used, even though they are considered less
sophisticated than wired headsets. Also, both synthetic computer-generated content and
360-degree footage of actual environments can be used. Reviewed studies for niVR and
siVR show that synthetic content was more commonly used, whereas fiVR used 360-degree
footage. Future studies comparing HMDs and different content could focus on the customer
journey, investigating which type of HMD and which type of content can be best applied at
different stages of the journey.
While the application of fiVR during the pre-travel phase (e.g. in travel agencies or at travel
fairs) and on-site (e.g. in museums or in amusement parks) is becoming more and more
commonplace, VR experiences during the post-travel phase are still rarely offered. Pioneers
who embrace the transformations that mainstream adoption of VR systems will produce
have the chance to add value to their operations by enhancing and prolonging the
customers’ experience. VR technologies might be adopted as a medium to store and share
rich travel memories. At this point, one postulates that the fast dissemination of 360-degree
VR, supported by the capacity to upload and view 360-degree videos on platforms such as
YouTube or Facebook (Munster et al., 2015), is grounded on the latest HMD developments.
It has also been hypothesised that with easier methods for content creation, more user-
generated content will be produced and shared online (for example on rating platforms),
which constitutes another field of research. This is supported by Guttentag (2010), who
points out that online travel communities could adopt (ni)VR.
To provide more authentic tourism experiences and improve the sense of presence, several
challenges need to be addressed and overcome. First, VR systems should aim for a
complete stimulation of the five senses, which, as of today, is still largely limited to vision
and hearing (Guttentag, 2010; Mura et al., 2017; Wiltshier and Clarke, 2016). Moreover,
travelling enables social and cultural interactions, which cannot be delivered with today’s
technology. It has been found that a lack of social experience reduces the virtual tourist’s
level of presence (Tussyadiah et al., 2016). Social interactions or collaborative spaces,
which play an essential role in tourism experiences, have been studied for niVR, but not for
siVR or fiVR. With the advances in technology, shared fiVR that allow for real-time full facial
capture, eye tracking, real-time rendering of subtle emotional changes and the possibility of
physical contact might be developed, which could influence virtual travel (Slater and
Sanchez-Vives, 2016), as the provision of an avatar in a VE, social interactions and as a
consequence thereof the perception of relatedness, all contribute to the tourists’ overall
virtual experience. The provision of a VR experience supported by an improved sense of

presence might provide marketers and tourism managers large benefits in the promotion of
their product and services.
Reviewing the studies pertinent to this paper, it was found that literature provides no precise
definition for VR in tourism. Furthermore, various related terms such as virtual tourism (Mura
et al., 2017), 3D virtual tourism (Huang et al., 2015), virtual tourist destinations (Tavakoli and
Mura, 2015) or cybertourism (Dewailly, 1999) are used interchangeably. Mura et al. (2017)
included in their definition of virtual travel, types that are driven by fantasy and imagination
without the application of technological devices. Bowman et al. (1997) explain virtual travel
as the control of user viewpoint motion within a VE, which is not to be confused with
navigation or wayfinding. Even though they use the term virtual travel, it is not related to
tourism as such, but rather to the movement within a VE. Thus, it is suggested that future
research should compare and contrast different terms related to VR in tourism and
conclude with precise definitions.

Conclusion and limitations

This paper offers a comprehensive state-of-the-art review of prior research in the area of VR
in tourism. It contributes to the literature in this area by providing a novel classification of VR
in tourism according to three levels of immersion – non-immersive, semi-immersive and
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fully-immersive – and suggesting corresponding definitions. VR technology is still in its

infancy. Several challenges in the current field of application need to be overcome and
gaps in the literature need to be bridged.
The rapid improvements in VR technology and its flourishing fields of application
demonstrate the need for further research in a tourism context. This paper has
contributed to creating a state-of-the-art understanding of the overall topic of VEs in
tourism and the use of different VR systems throughout the customer journey. Towards
this aim, it has however become clear that while much research has been conducted
focussing on the effects of VR on the pre-travel and on-site phases, research analysing
the implementation of VR in holistic marketing strategies and the post-travel phase, is
lacking. As the development of VR continues, research should be conducted to provide
guidance about how to use it towards the achievement of organisational goals.
Furthermore, in the course of the review it has become evident that further work and
critical analysis discussing issues related to VR content creation is needed. In particular,
topics such as software development, user interfaces or user movement within the virtual
tourism environment, just to mention a few, further analysis is required especially for all
three categories of niVR, siVR and fiVR (Bowman et al., 1997; Lepouras et al., 2004;
Fineschi and Pozzebon, 2015; Komianos et al., 2015; Mirk and Hlavacs, 2015; Noordin
et al., 2015; Fernández-Palacios et al., 2016; Liu et al., 2016; Tan et al., 2016). As results
are assumed to be of relevance for practitioners and researchers, an in-depth
examination of the creation of both synthetic and 360-degree real-captured content is
VR represents only one type of immersive technology that has attracted scholarly
attention. In fact, technologies such as AR and MR, which share characteristics with
niVR and siVR, are gaining increasing importance in the tourism industry as
demonstrated by the related growing body of literature (Kounavis et al., 2012;
Yovcheva et al., 2012; Han et al., 2014; Leue et al., 2015; Hammady et al., 2016;
Neuburger and Egger, 2017, Zach and Tussyadiah, 2017). Thus, as the contribution of
this paper was limited in terms of developing a comprehensive understanding of the
state-of-the-art VR research in tourism, one suggests pursuing an analysis of other
immersive technologies in tourism. Future research discussing and comparing the
applications of VR, MR and AR may allow tourism service providers to leverage the full
capabilities of each technology. As immersive technologies will advance and research
will evolve, it is therefore paramount to understand the opportunities and challenges

that are lying ahead to guide tourists and industry practitioners to optimally utilise what
the virtual world offers.

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Further reading
Sherman, W.R. and Craig, A.B. (2003), Understanding Virtual Reality. Interface, Application, and Design,
Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, San Francisco.

Corresponding author
Roman Egger can be contacted at:

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Table AI Overview of studies dealing with VR in tourism

VR specified Methodology Variables
a) Classification of VR

b) VR system a) Data collection a) Independent variable(s)

Paper details c) Type of content b) Sample b) Dependent variable(s) Major findings

Beck and Egger a) Fully- and non-immersive a) Experiment and online a) Type of marketing stimulus (HMD The fully-immersive VR system triggered
(2018) b) Wireless HMD (Samsung questionnaire vs. Desktop PC) more intense emotions in terms of heart rate
Gear VR); Desktop PC b) 101; Undergraduate and b) Intensity of triggered emotions and electrodermal activity. No statistical
c) Real captured 360- graduate students (Heart rate; Electrodermal significant difference between the two
degree activity; Self-report measure); groups for the self-report measure was
Decision response (Product found. Existing interest in HMDs cannot
Interest; Purchase Immediacy) necessarily be translated into product
interest or purchase immediacy
Marasco et al. a) Fully-immersive a) Pilot test and questionnaire a) Behavioural intentions to visit/ The results show that the perceived visual
(2018) b) Wired HMD (Oculus Rift) b) 450; Randomly selected revisit the cultural heritage site appeal of VR experiences with HMDs have a
c) Real captured 360- individuals b) Perceived visual appeal; positive and significant effect on the
degree 3D and synthetic Emotional involvement of the user behavioural intention towards the promoted
site. The perceived visual appeal has also a
positive effect on the emotional involvement
Rainoldi et al. a) Fully-immersive a) Experiment and online a) Type of information provided (VR VR has a positive influence on tourist’s
(2018) b) Wireless HMD questionnaire vs. paper-based brochure) information search process and decision-
c) Real captured 360- b) 101; Undergraduate and b) Tourist’s information search making process within the customer buying
degree graduate students process; Tourist’s decision- cycle. The type of promotional material
making process; provided to the users influenced the desire
to visit the destination, suggesting that VR
has a stronger impact
Tussyadiah et al. a) Fully-immersive a) Experiment and a) Sense of presence (Self- The sense of presence within the virtual
(2018) b) Wireless and low questionnaire Location, Possible Actions) (1); tourism environment leads to an increase of
immersion HMD b) 202; Undergraduate and Enjoyment of VR experience (2); the enjoyment of the VR experience and to a
(Samsung Gear VR, graduate students / 724; Post VR Attitude towards the positive post-VR Attitude towards the
Google Cardboard) Festival goers destination (3); destination. A positive attitude change also
c) Real captured 360- b) Enjoyment of VR experience (1); leads to a higher intention to visit the
degree Post VR Attitude towards the destination
destination (1; 2); Intention to visit
destination (3);
Disztinger et al. a) Fully-immersive a) Questionnaire a) Perceived ease of use; Perceived Perceived usefulness, perceived
(2017) b) HMDs (Google b) 148; n.a. usefulness; Perceived enjoyment; enjoyment, perceived immersion and
Cardboard, HTC Vive, Interest, Personal innovativeness; interest showed strong effects on the
Oculus Rift, etc.) Accessibility; Scepticism; behavioural intention to use VR technology
c) Real captured 360- Technology anxiety; Perceived for travel planning
degree immersion
b) Behavioural intention to use VR
technology for travel planning

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Table AI
VR specified Methodology Variables
a) Classification of VR

b) VR system a) Data collection a) Independent variable(s)
Paper details c) Type of content b) Sample b) Dependent variable(s) Major findings

Griffin et al. a) Fully- and non-immersive a) Experiment and a) Type of stimulus (HMD vs. 2D Participants of the fully-immersive VR group
(2017) b) Wired HMD (Oculus Rift); questionnaire video vs. Website with pictures) rated the affective destination image to be
Desktop PC b) 121; Undergraduate students b) Affective destination image; higher than those evaluating the website
c) Real captured 360- Conative destination image and the 2D video. However, they are not
degree (for the 2D (Intention to visit within the next 5 more likely to visit the destination in the next
presentation with the years; Intention to seek five years. The intention to seeking further
desktop PC 360-degree information; Intention to suggest information about the destination was higher
element was removed) destination to others; Intention to for the HMD group than for the website
tell others about the ad); Attitudes group. Participants of the HMD group are
towards the advertisement; more likely to suggest the destination to
others and to share the advertisement
experience with others than participants of
the other two groups
Marchiori et al. a) Fully-immersive a) Experiment and a) Different scenes of the VR Detected increase of heart rate tended to
(2017) b) Wired HMD (Oculus Rift) questionnaire experience correspond to the most recalled scenes.
c) Real captured 360- b) 23; n.a. b) Heart rate; VR media Scenes that were most often reported and
degree and synthetic characteristics; Memory recall recalled were characterised by an unusual
horizon perspective (e.g. flight on hot air
Tussyadiah et al. a) Fully-immersive a) Experiment and online a) Spatial ability; Attention The higher the level of attention allocation to
(2017) b) Wireless and low questionnaire allocation; Type of VR stimuli; the VR experience, the greater the level of
immersion HMDs b) 202; Undergraduate and Prior visitation to destination perceived presence. Spatial presence is
(Samsung Gear VR, graduate students b) Spatial presence; Post VR determined by the two dimensions of
Google Cardboard) attitude change departure (being somewhere other than the
c) Real captured 360- actual environment) and self-location in a
degree VE. Spatial presence positively impacts
post-VR attitude change towards tourism
destinations. Different VR devices led to
different results (however, these results
were not statistically significant)
Jung et al. (2017) a) Fully-immersive a) Experiment and semi- - Participants show a positive attitude
b) Wireless HMD (Samsung structured interview towards the use of VR due to a fully
Gear VR) b) 35; n.a. immersed tourism experience, which
c) Real captured 360- influences the behavioural intention to visit
degree the destination in the future
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Table AI
VR specified Methodology Variables
a) Classification of VR
b) VR system a) Data collection a) Independent variable(s)
Paper details c) Type of content b) Sample b) Dependent variable(s) Major findings

Jung et al. (2016) a) Fully-immersive a) Experiment and a) Social presence (1); 4 realms of
Social Presence is a strong predictor of four
b) Wireless HMD (Samsung questionnaire Experience Economy (2); Visitor’s
realms of Experience Economy in mixed
Gear VR) (and b) 163; Individual museum overall experience (3) environments. Education, escapism, and
application of AR) visitors b) 4 realms of Experience Economy most notably entertainment, but not
c) n.a. (1); Visitor’s overall experience
aesthetics, significantly influence visitor
(2); Revisit intention (3) experience. The overall visitor experience
influences the intention to re-visit the
Potter et al. a) Fully-immersive a) Experiment a) n.a. HMDs provide opportunities for tourism
(2016) b) Low-immersion HMD b) 16; Individual passengers b) n.a. operators to give information more directly
(Google Cardboard) and research team to visitors and engage them more
c) n.a. intensively with the content provided.
Interactivity and entertainment offer added
value to the tourist
Tussyadiah et al. a) Fully-immersive a) Experiment and focus group / a) Spatial presence A certain level of presence, which can be
(2016) b) Low-immersion HMD Interviews b) Attitude towards destination; enhanced by including easily recognisable
(Google Cardboard) b) 12; Students / 19; Students Behaviour towards destination artefacts or presenting destinations in a
c) Real captured 360- and professionals creative way, is necessary to support the
degree persuasive power of VR. Spatial presence is
influenced by factors such as (dis)continuity
within the VR experience, social experience
or destination image
Huang et al. a) Non-immersive a) Experiment and online a) Perceived ease of use; Perceived Perceived usefulness is positively related to
(2015) b) Second Life (SL) questionnaire usefulness; Perception of the experience of enjoyment and is a
c) Synthetic b) 186; College students and autonomy; Perception of predictor of behavioural intentions.
experienced Second Life competence; Perception of Perception of relatedness and autonomy
users relatedness positively influence the experience of
b) Travel intentions; Enjoyment enjoyment and behavioural intentions
Tavakoli and a) Non-immersive a) Participant observation, a) n.a. Choosing an avatar in SL is a long and
Mura (2015) b) SL online interviews, on-line b) n.a. complex decision process, even longer than
c) Synthetic chats the choice of virtual tourist destination to
b) 10 interviews, n.a. visit. Women wanted their avatars to
resemble their appearance as closely as
possible, however it was observed that this
was in fact not the case. Ethnicity,
nationality, and age are other relevant
factors for the choice of avatars. For the
destination choice, famous mass-tourism

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Table AI
VR specified Methodology Variables
a) Classification of VR
b) VR system a) Data collection a) Independent variable(s)

Paper details c) Type of content b) Sample b) Dependent variable(s) Major findings

destinations and beaches, clubs, and

romantic sites were preferred. Different
representation of the self lead to an
increased level of perceived freedom and
Loizides et al. a) Fully- and semi- a) Experiment, think aloud a) Type of VR The semi-immersive VE kept participants
(2014) immersive protocol, questionnaire and b) Time engaged; Items viewed; engaged for longer periods of time, which
b) Wired HMD (Oculus Rift); semi-structured interviews HMD experience and Powerwall was most likely influenced by the
Powerwall (stereoscopic b) 12; n.a. experience (overall, capabilities of the HMD. The number of
display with 3D memorability, learnability, items viewed did not vary greatly between
capabilities through navigation use, viewing, physical the VR systems. Navigation and viewing
passive type glasses) wellbeing) was rated better for the semi-immersive VE.
c) Synthetic The HMD experience resulted for a few
participants in motion sickness. A lack of
immersion was noted for the semi-
immersive museums
Huang et al. a) Non-immersive a) Experiment and online a) Perceived ease of use (1); Perceived usefulness is positively related to
(2013b) b) SL questionnaire Perceived usefulness (1); behavioural intentions to visit the site.
c) Synthetic b) 198; Novice (university Enjoyment (2); Positive emotions Perceived ease of use and usefulness are
students) and experienced (2); Emotional involvement (2); positively related to the four hedonic
SL users Flow experience (2) constructs (enjoyment while experiencing
b) Travel intentions (1;2); Enjoyment the virtual tourism destination, positive
(a); Positive emotions (1); emotions, emotional involvement, flow
Emotional involvement (1); Flow experience). All but one (enjoyment) of the
experience (1) hedonic constructs are positively related to
behavioural intentions to visit the destination
Huang et al. a) Non-immersive a) Experiment and online a) Perception of competence (1); During an educational session in SL,
(2013) b) SL questionnaires Perception of autonomy satisfaction of the psychological needs of
c) Synthetic b) 105; Students (1); Perception of relatedness (1); autonomy and relatedness are positively
Positive emotions (2) related to intrinsic motivation. This indicates
b) Intrinsic motivation (1; 2); Positive that higher levels of student interest in online
emotions (1) activities and a greater perception of feeling
connected with others can enhance intrinsic
learning motivation. Results did not support
prior research findings concerning the
association between competence and
intrinsic motivation. Positive emotions
experienced had positive and significant
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Table AI
VR specified Methodology Variables
a) Classification of VR
b) VR system a) Data collection a) Independent variable(s)
Paper details c) Type of content b) Sample b) Dependent variable(s) Major findings

impacts on students’ intrinsic motivation

during learning in the 3D virtual world
Zarzuela et al. a) Semi-immersive a) Experiment and a) n.a. VR Serious Games provide an opportunity
(2013) b) 3D TV, or 3D projector, questionnaire b) n.a. for educational tourism promotion. Tourism
Kinect device b) 10; n.a. organisations or tourist information centres
c) Synthetic could offer information in a fun and
entertaining yet educational way
Huang et al. a) Non-immersive a) Experiment and a) Antecedents of flow (challenges, The achievement of flow experience within
(2012) b) SL questionnaire skills, interactivity, tele- the VE is positively influenced by the
c) Synthetic b) 42; Undergraduate students presence); Involvement dimension of skills, tele-presence and
b) Flow; Travel intentions interactivity. Flow experience on the virtual
destination had significantly positive effects
on the travel intention to take an actual trip,
whereas the effects of involvement on travel
intention was not significant. Flow served as
a mediator in the relationship between
involvement and travel intentions
Hyun and a) Non-immersive a) Web survey a) Offline travel information (1); It has been found that web-mediated virtual
O’Keefe (2012) b) 3D virtual tour (and other b) 328; Visitors to the Tasmania Web-mediated virtual information information positively influences the feeling
virtual information) Tourism website (1); Telepresence (2); Virtual of telepresence, whereas offline information
provided on a website cognitive image (3); Virtual does not. Telepresence positively influences
c) Real captured (not affective image (4) virtual cognitive image and virtual
necessarily 360-degree, b) Telepresence (1); Virtual connotation, but not virtual affective image.
also regular videos and cognitive image (2); Virtual The formation of a virtual cognitive image
photos) affective image (2; 3); Virtual influences the formation of an affective
connotation (2; 3; 4) image, which in turn affects virtual conation.
Results suggest a direct relationship
between telepresence and conation, and
indirect relationship through the cognitive
Lee and Ahn a) Non-immersive a) Questionnaire a) Trust-shaping factors (ability, Ability, benevolence, and integrity as trust
(2012) b) 3D virtual tour provided b) 200; n.a. benevolence, integrity) (1); Trust shaping factors positively influence trust,
on a website (2); Type of VR website (with or regardless of whether the embedded VR is
c) Real captured (not without narrative video clip) (3) with or without a narrative video. Trust,
necessarily 360-degree, b) Trust (1); Risk-taking (2); Trust- shaped by website embedded VR,
also regular videos and shaping factors, trust, risk-taking positively influences risk-taking. Differences
photos) (3) were found among the trust-shaping factors,
depending if a narrative video was applied
or not. The study shows that the embedded

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Table AI
VR specified Methodology Variables
a) Classification of VR
b) VR system a) Data collection a) Independent variable(s)

Paper details c) Type of content b) Sample b) Dependent variable(s) Major findings

VR website with a narrated video clip results

in more psychological relief than the
embedded VR website without narrated
video clips
Pantano and a) Semi-immersive a) Experiment and a) n.a. The following clustered codes were
Servidio (2011) b) Screen with polarised questionnaire b) n.a. identified: visit real place, affecting
glasses for b) 26; Individuals at university decision-making, communication, satisfied
stereoscoping viewing by the virtual experience, quality of 3D
c) Synthetic images and system properties. The intention
to visit the real place was found as the most
important code. Quality of 3D images and
satisfaction with the virtual experience are
the only factors that show a meaningful
Carrozzino and a) Semi-immersive a) In-depth survey; a) n.a. Classification of VR installations, specifically
Bergamasco b) Different interactive and Questionnaires; Own b) n.a. for cultural heritage applications, based on
(2010) non-interactive systems experience the level of immersion and interactivity. The
(CAVE, stereo powerwall, b) 50 (for questionnaire); more immersive and the more interactive,
handheld trackball, etc.) Individuals the more valuable the experience for the
c) Synthetic and real- museum visitor. Challenges for the
captured realisation of semi-immersive VR systems in
a museum setting are costs, required space
and human resources, reluctance of visitors
to wear VR equipment, VR as a single-user
experience or in general the non-
acceptance of VR as a sophisticated
Pantano and a) Semi-immersive a) n.a. a) n.a. VEs provide tourists with an interactive and
Servidio (2009) b) Wide screen, tracking b) n.a. b) n.a. immersive experience. VR can influence
system, 3D workstation, tourists during the decision-making
polarised glasses for process, as they can first test the product in
stereoscoping viewing advance and second develop the wish to
c) Synthetic visit the reconstructed places in reality.
Pervasive environments are particularly
suitable tools in the promotion of historical
and archaeological sites
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Table AI
VR specified Methodology Variables
a) Classification of VR
b) VR system a) Data collection a) Independent variable(s)
Paper details c) Type of content b) Sample b) Dependent variable(s) Major findings

Chiou et al. a) Non-immersive a) Experiment a) Cognitive preference; Advertising effects of brochures or virtual
(2008) b) Virtual experience (in b) 104; College students / 136; b) Advertising attitude; Brand experiences are contingent on consumers’
general panoramic College students attitude; Purchase intent cognitive preferences. Whereas verbalisers
views, animation, and prefer the traditional use of brochures,
interactive photos, but visualisers prefer virtual experiences.
not further specified Verbalisers tend to use fewer images, but
which one was chosen rely mostly on verbal material, whereas
for the experiment) visualisers tend to remember better from
c) n.a. visual material and not from verbal material
Wan et al. (2007) a) Non-immersive a) Experiment and a) Method of presentation (Virtual The advertising effects were not related to
b) Virtual experience (not questionnaire experience vs. Brochure); Type information involvement or prior visiting
specified) b) 100; Students of destination (Natural park vs. experiences. It is suggested that advertising
c) n.a. Theme park); Information is more effective when the way of
involvement; Prior visiting information presentation corresponds to the
experience type of travel destination, hence the choice
b) Advertising effect (Advertisement of media influences the advertising effect
attitude; Brand image; Purchase
Refsland et al. a) Semi-immersive a) n.a. a) n.a. Behavioural realism is crucial for virtual
(1998) b) CAVE and DOME (dome- b) n.a. b) n.a. tourists. Interactivity of an immersive
based video projection installation allows visitors to construct the
environments) systems; experience for themselves. A complex
Interactive walls; Shutter interactive environment can be created by
glasses; Wired and facilitating two-way interactivity, meaning
wireless localised gloves that visitors interact computer-generated
c) Synthetic and real- subjects and the other way around. It is
captured (live and pre- suggested to give visitors some kind of
recorded) artefact as a memory for the virtual