ABBA Voyager: The future of music tourism?

As an investor in the UK’s largest music-based tour operator Sound Travel, which packages event tickets with hotel accommodation, I was invited this weekend to experience the ABBA Voyage virtual concert in London’s former Olympic Park in Stratford.

To say I was blown away, by the sophistication of this “virtual experience”, with completely life-like ABBA Avatars, interwoven with slick video production and a great sound system, would be an understatement.

 This was my first experience of “Crowd-based” virtual reality, where instead of being fitted via a virtual reality headset, that isolates you from the real world, you’re immersed into a concert crowd experiencing the same show. Like any “real” concert, the feel-good factor of the crowd around you, dancing and singing along, makes the experience magical and something well worthwhile travelling for.

 As a regular festival goer, I have often enjoyed seeing bands from my youth such as the Rolling Stones, New Order or even new romantic favourites like the Human League or Duran Duran. Often classic music stands the test of time, but do we really want to watch a bunch of decrepit 60-year-old rockers strutting their stuff? Often, this is a painful reminder of our own ageing process.

 How much better to see a live concert from their prime and dress up in those clothes of yesteryear!

 This is what the virtual reality technology behind the ABBA Voyager experience, can deliver at a touch of a button, with no fear of artist wear and tear or illness. Shows can be scheduled every day of the week and twice a day on weekends, to sell-out crowds of 3,000 people, with no overcrowding or long queues at the tube station on the way home. At £85 per ticket, the shows are clearly a major money spinner at £250k per show or £115 million per year giving an estimated 2-year payback on the £140m production costs. This relatively high set-up cost is expected to fall dramatically for subsequent productions, as ABBA Voyage really was a groundbreaker using lots of new techniques.

 Next year the ABBA Voyage show will go to New York either as a new production on top of London or with the temporary stadium being lifted and shifted.

 I’m happy to say that this show has also been a big earner for Sound Travel, who package weekend breaks for both domestic and increasingly international source markets. However, I think this is just the tip of the iceberg, with destinations like Dubai, Qatar and Saudi Arabia likely to incorporate similar music-based events into their tourism armoury, to provide a much closer alternative to Las Vegas for many Europeans.

 Experiential travel has already enjoyed rapid growth with the UK public booking city breaks based on attending concerts by their favourite bands or travelling to an ever-expanding range of UK-based festivals. How many more would travel to see the Beatles reunited and playing concerts in their prime?

 Song royalties and artist participation are never a given and would come at a considerable cost, but just as Queen’s blockbuster “Bohemian Rhapsody” was quickly followed by Elton John’s “Rocket Man”, similar projects seem inevitable.

 Tourism chiefs need to take a good look at what is happening in the London streets of Strafford and consider using similar experiences as one of the foundations of modernising existing or developing new tourism destinations.

 Few holiday experiences can generate such a feel-good, wow factor, that a great concert can, so adding this to a holiday mix of sun, beach and fun could be a real winner.

 Forget virtual reality as a “singular” immersive experience and embrace an experience that can unite you with your family, friends and often strangers from the crowd around you.

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