15 June 2022

Innovation at TUI: From immersive technologies to the metaverse

Interview with Michele Zilli, Head of Technology Strategy of TUI Group

As Head of Technology Strategy of  TUI Group, Michele Zilli deals with innovations that shape the future of technology – and society. Keeping up to date and trying out new things before they are available for everybody is part of his job. Last week, Michele went to the AWE conference in the US for a glimpse into the future of immersive technology. We spoke with him about his job and what he took away from AWE (Augmented World Expo).

Among other things, you look at innovations in technology that are relevant for TUI. Do you have an example what that could be?

Together with the Group Strategy Team, we have done a thorough screening of technologies and defined a roadmap for future technologies that might be relevant for TUI as a company and for TUI customers. One of these technologies is quantum computing which is maybe one of the most revolutionary technologies for the future. Quantum computers will be able to carry out calculations and simulations that would take conventional computers years to complete enabling progress in areas such as date processing, encryption techniques or artificial intelligence to name a few. Another technology that we follow on our roadmap are immersive technologies which includes augmented and virtual reality.

How would you describe immersive technologies?

Technology is usually not an extension of our physical presence, e.g. we look at screens or type something on a keyboard. Immersive technologies extend our abilities as human beings and the “world” becomes our screen. Some types of immersive technology extend reality by overlaying digital images e.g. to provide additional information, others create a new reality by completely shutting a user out from the rest of the world and immersing them in a digital environment. The potential is amazing.

You attended the AWE conference which is known to showcase some really futuristic technologies. How would you describe the conference?

It was three days of deep immersion. From the biggest players in tech to upcoming start-ups I was able to meet so many great people and try out new things, e.g. some of the most advanced headsets for virtual reality use cases that might be available in shops maybe in five years. It was a glimpse into the future!

Were there concrete use cases for TUI?

I talked to a couple of companies about immersive technologies for trainings in aviation. This is something we would like to explore further. How can we mix the virtual and the real world to make trainings even more realistic in the future? The goal is to make the boundaries between virtual and real world disappear and I had the chance to test some technologies that might help us in achieving this.

Was there a main topic at the conference?

The metaverse was all over the conference – or as many experts call it: the “m-word” as there is such a hype around this word right now. Building the metaverse will be a huge step forward – and it will have an impact not only on technology, but also on society. And there was strong sense of responsibility at the conference for creating experiences for customers that are engaging and valuable, but trying to avoid the mistakes we made with the current version of the internet.

How would you describe the metaverse?

I listened to the key note of Unity CEO John Riccitello and I liked his definition: “The metaverse is the next generation of the internet that is always real-time, mostly 3D, mostly interactive, mostly social and mostly persistent.” In his key note, he predicted that all websites will have a metaverse component by the 2030s.

Did the conference give you some ideas about how the metaverse can be relevant for TUI?

We can create some powerful use cases for our customers within the metaverse. If you think about John Riccitello´s definition – our destinations are always realtime, always 3D, always interactive and always social. I cannot see how the metaverse can replace this. But if we can use the potential of the metaverse to merge our real world destinations with amazing digital experiences in the metaverse for our customers, it will be amazing and help them to “live happy”.