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Hi everyone!

Do you use the latest Microsoft Flight Simulator? Then please keep on reading! Contribute to scientific research by filling out a short 10 min. survey and sharing your experiences in this forum.

MSFS 2020 can easily be considered a new form of virtual tourism: travel without ‘real’ travel. But could this substitute a vacation-feeling to some degree? And why/how? My master’s thesis on Virtual Tourism and Travel will try to answer these questions.

From a personal perspective, this topic really fascinates me: I am both an avid traveller (at least, in ‘normal’ times!) and a MSFS-user myself. My girlfriend and I are both loving this sim since we started using it to fly around both familiar and unfamiliar places around the world… which got me to the point at which I am now with my thesis.

Your thoughts, opinions and experiences can contribute so much to my research and make a difference in a cutting-edge research topic.

The survey is closed now. Thanks to everyone who participated!










All done? Time to discuss the topic! Share your experience, opinion, and/or comments about how Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020) simulates (or stimulates?) your travel appetite. And of course, discussion about the topic and with each other is not only allowed, but also actively stimulated!

Thanks again and looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Jochem Lips

MSc Tourism, Society, and Environment
Wageningen University & Research, The Netherlands


PS: Wondering what to write about? You can use (but you do not have to restrict yourself to) these questions to get started:

  1. Do you ever have moments when your MSFS experiences make you feel as if you are ‘there’, where you are flying? What were you doing? What do you think contributed to this feeling?
  2. Have you visited any place in MSFS that you would consider really traveling to?
  3. … or are there any places you visited in MSFS that you feel less inclined to travel to now?
  4. Why do you use MSFS? Is this the first time you are using a flight sim?
  5. Who are you? Do you think that MSFS users are a very specific group of people, or do you think anyone could enjoy this sim?


Note: By participating in this discussion, you consent to your answers being used for the purposes of this research. This means that what you write might be published or used in e.g., presentations or other material that might be publicly accessible. Anonymity of your answers cannot be guaranteed, although you can request to have your (user)name omitted in the research report and other data resulting from this study. Please explicitly mention this in you answer(s).

Edited by Yoochem
Title too long and perhaps off-putting to some (based on feedback)
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Anything virtual is really just research, real travel includes the sites, sounds, smells and the thrill of being there.

For me learning flight and new aircraft and practicing those real world procedures are number one, the scenery is just icing on the cake. MSFS has brought us into a new era of default scenery but if you look close enough there is still a lot missing.

So do I consider MSFS virtual tourism, no I consider it a flight simulator that still needs some work in that area but is still fun to fly in. The scenery is important for low and slow flying to find your way and it is nice to fly in different places but I see myself as a sim pilot and not a tourist.

Good luck with your thesis Jochem. 

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Hi Brett, thanks for your input! I absolutely see your point - MSFS is indeed a flight sim first and perhaps a 'world sim' or virtual tourism medium, second. And if I understand you right, if you're in it for the flying, the aviation dynamics/realism are of course the most important requirements by far. 

Your point about the senses missing is also extremely valid - this makes it highly doubtful that, for the average person, real travel could be fully simulated virtually. But could it provide a very slight sense of being somewhere else? Does MSFS give a tiny taste of that feeling, even if just for a fleeting moment?

Did you ever experience this, even though you're not looking for it?

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Quote; But could it provide a very slight sense of being somewhere else?

If you look on this site for the Around the World Challenge and the Easter Bunny Rally you will see how we use our imaginations of being there to tell our stories of our flights and in that way we see ourselves there but I think all of us or at least for myself, I know it is just a virtual representation of our planet.  No doubt we live in a beautiful place and flying around it in the sim is very enjoyable while we view places we could never see in real life but your question was do I feel like a virtual tourist and to that I would again answer no, I feel like a sim pilot more concerned with piloting duties in distant places.

That said when I do create a flight plan in a particular place I will look for places of interest to glance down at and I will also research those POI's for close up images on the web. 

Definition of Virtual Tourism: An ICT-based tool that uses digital images and sensory feedback to simulate tourist attractions available at remote destinations. 

To your original quoted question have I ever felt the slightest sense of being there, I will admit I enjoy seeing new places but to be honest after careful consideration my answer would be that sometimes my imagination let's me feel as if I am there even though in reality I know I am not, I'm just playing in a vast sandbox of pixels after allA virtual traveler vs. tourist is a better way to frame it. No doubt I would be bored if I didn't have the whole world to fly around in.  

Now I have taken virtual tours on the web and in a couple of museums as amazing as these places were it was still just an exercise  in answering my questions of what these places actual look like in a learning way. 

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More than scouting out places to visit, I do find it can rekindle memories of places I've been. And those memories tend to enhance what I see in the sim - a rose tinted layer, if you like.

But in the cold light of day, even the best, most detailed parts of the sim still only look a bit more realistic. They're a long way from being convincing as actually real. Low poly models, poor AI/control systems, clunky animations, things being just plain wrong etc, are all immersion killers. And that's in the best parts of the sim. Go to some of the automatically generated places and it really looks dire (although less dire than it looked in older sims). There's never any doubt that I'm sitting in my room looking at a PC. I think even VR with a full on haptic suit and motion platform would still have trouble.

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@brett thanks for your elaborate response! You make a good point with how people write down the stories, and how they actually think about them. While they sound real (e.g. "I was flying from London to New York the other day"), we all know that we were actually sitting at home. What I do wonder though is this: you say you wouldn't consider it a form of (virtual) travel, or at most just a way of learning about other places. But would that perhaps have the opposite effect of stimulating an appetite to travel to some of these places? Have you yourself flown over any place in MSFS thinking about actually going there? And if so, what (would) make(s) the difference in stimulating or simulating that travel urge?

@Tim_A thanks for sharing! I think you raise a great point about what makes an MSFS experience less immersive, even if you'd use VR. Do you think though that, if many more details would be added (let's say, MSFS 2030 comes out and looks even more realistic), you'd be more inclined to see it as a virtual travel experience? Why or why not?

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This part of the question is perhaps wrong for me, a vacation for me is camping and if there are trees and and a flat spot to put my camper on I am a happy camper. I traveled when I was younger and for me it's overrated. I'm sure for others the story would be different so hopefully they will chime in.

I guess flying over all over the sim world I have said to myself that would be a nice place to visit but that's as far as that thought would go. Does that help you? 

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@brett thanks for elaborating. Yes your answers so far are absolutely helpful, as they (to me) represent a very rational perspective on the topic that is hard to disagree with.

However, much of what we do/think/believe as humans is subconscious. While we often think we know why we do things and we rationalise the reasons for our actions, very often there are other forces at play that we are not aware of. I do wonder, and this is something that I cannot hope to answer with my research but I do hope to shed a little bit of light on, what being exposed to a slight feeling of 'flying somewhere' does to our subconscious desire to travel for leisure. Or, as you put it in one of your earlier answers, the "imaginations of being there to tell our stories". 

In that sense, I do think MSFS is different from e.g. looking at paper maps or scrolling through Google Earth, as we have more of a physical presence in MSFS (i.e., the plane or pilot) that places us in the environment more.

What do you (or others) think?

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  • 3 months later...
Posted (edited)

Hi everyone!

In late February I posted this topic regarding my thesis research. Today, I’m happy to present the results of this research. First of all though, I want to thank those of you who filled out the survey or participated in the forum discussion. Without you, I could not have written this thesis.

Here is the abstract:



The concept of virtual tourism, which can be defined as a digital approximation of a tourism experience, has gained renewed attention due to the travel restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Several studies describe the relation between people’s travel intention and their virtual tourism experiences. However, much is still unknown about how this relationship works. This thesis therefore combines Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behaviour and Guttentag’s Substitution Acceptance Model to provide insight into the current and future potential of virtual tourism to inspire or substitute real tourism.

In pursuance of empirical evidence to support any assertions on this subject, the latest iteration of Microsoft Flight Simulator was used as a surrogate for a virtual tourism experience to investigate the potential of VT from home to complement or substitute real tourism. Its users filled out a survey regarding their experiences with the simulator, attitudes, (social) environment, individual characteristics, and travel intention. In addition, many joined online discussions which yielded qualitative information to complement the survey’s quantitative data. Lastly, three industry experts were interviewed to gain a wider perspective on the issue.

The results show that an individual’s experience with the specific destination, attitude towards VT, subjective norms, and barriers to real travel are all important in relation to travel intention based on the VT experience. Similarly, the quality of the experience is related to personal context and, in turn, related to the extent to which VT can replace or inspire real tourism. However, the findings also indicate that these two possibilities are not mutually exclusive, and that VT can serve both functions, i.e. replacing and inspiring travel. Lastly, consideration of VT as a travel replacement does not have a significant relation with travel intention, which implies that VT from home can currently serve as travel inspiration and a way to virtually travel while not reducing the desire for real tourism.


If anyone is interested, the full report can be downloaded here. I will also present the results via live video stream this coming Monday at 15:30 (Amsterdam time) - this is the link to the MS Teams meeting.


Questions or comments are more than welcome!

Edited by Yoochem
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