According to the official website, Pokemon Go “gives you the chance to explore real locations,” which isn’t exactly the most exciting statement you could make about your video game. But regardless of how much fun it is to exist in the physical world, Pokemon Go did an incredible job of actually getting people to wander their hometowns. So it should come as no surprise that Niantic, the studio behind Pokemon Go, has partnered with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation to encourage tourism. The studio can easily help tourism by taking what it learned from Pokemon Go and adding on to it in ways that fit a non-Pokemon setting.
It might be a little surprising, but putting Niantic on the job makes sense. Pokemon Go had literally millions of people meandering around at launch and is still insanely popular. And the mechanics did all seamlessly fit into the idea of exploring the real world, which is basically tourism anyway and what the the United Nation Word Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has tasked them with doing.
The UNWTO is a specialized agency, dedicated to the promoting the development of responsible, sustainable, and universally accessible tourism. Basically, its job is to promote tourism that doesn’t harm the country, environment, or people involved.
Gotta Catch ‘Em All
So far, no one has said much about what this all means yet, but it’s obviously going to involve the use of Niantic’s impressive augmented reality credentials. We know that these campaigns will be part of the UNWTO’s Travel.Enjoy.Respect program. The Travel.Enjoy.Respect initiative encourages tourists to research and respect the local culture and environment. An AR app would be an extremely useful way of encouraging this behavior too. With AR, the UNWTO could layout routes, information and guides without disrupting the physical space in any way.
Pokestops already highlight areas of interest, but rarely contain much information about what you’re looking at. An app designed as a companion for tourists could include addition information about a location, without a large sign spoiling the view or the area for the locals. It could feel remarkably familiar to collecting audio diaries or scraps of lore from countless video games, but in real life.
Another aspect of the campaign is about making sure to take nothing with you from the areas you visit. It can be tempting to pick something up as a keepsake from your travels, but with many tourists doing this, local cultures and environments can be stripped of their resources. With an AR app much like Pokemon Go, tourists could take away digital representations of local objects as a memento, leaving the physical keepsake behind. They could even be more fantastic depictions of local area and culture, with things like mythological creatures, heroes or artifacts.
This could even be added upon further. Imagine if these AR objects were hidden around local landmarks and paths, encouraging tourists to thoroughly exploring a location, taking in as much of the culture and beauty as possible in a friendly way to compete with whomever they are on holiday with.
On the Road to Viridian City
I have been picturing an entirely new app, developed exclusively with tourism in mind, but this hasn’t been confirmed. It could be that the UNWTO is going to partner specifically with Pokemon Go, or Niantic’s lesser known game Ingress Prime. The app could even have exclusive Pokemon found in specific, tourist areas as a way of remembering your trip. But I would rather see an app with a dedication to the real local environment portrayed through the AR, rather than the world of Pokemon.
It’s a nice idea, although we haven’t seen exactly how it will look yet, but the technology fits perfectly with the principles that the campaign and the UNWTO are all about. Of course it’s not without its problems. A successful launch could see more tourists attempting to visit “rarer” locations and potentially damaging the environment through foot traffic and transport. We’ve all seen the video clips of throngs of people rushing across streets and parks to catch rare Pokemon. And not everywhere has the kind of stable internet access you need to play a game like Pokemon Go, and if you’re using the app in other countries, roaming charges can be extremely expensive.
But regardless of that, promoting sustainable tourism that respects the area you’re visiting is a noble ambition. You might be collecting digital keepsakes, audio diaries, or something else entirely, but tourism, like Pokemon, might soon be able to evolve.