Can virtual tourism rebuild travel for a post-pandemic world?

Thursday, August 19th, 2021 00:00 |

Virtual tourism. Photo/Courtesy

Travelling to Cairo, Egypt has always been on my bucket list. However, when I got the opportunity to travel there late last year, I couldn’t because of Covid-19, which had then taken the globe by storm. 

But recently, I had the opportunity to explore Cairo from home, thanks to technology.

I was able to explore some of Egypt’s most incredible sites through a series of virtual tours put together by Google Arts and Culture.

This saved me from the crowds, the busy streets, and the heat, although I still intend to visit the country physically in the future. 

Using Google Street View, I was able to tour ancient tombs, such as the tomb of Menna and tombs of Saqqara, ancient pyramids such as the Great Pyramid of Giza, the only remaining ancient wonder of the world, museums, such as the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, the Coptic Museum, and the Museum of Islamic Arts, monasteries, and other historic sites in Egypt in three dimensions.

Visit museums virtually

 “Most people are now opting for virtual tourism before they have a physical visit, and it is gaining traction rapidly.

From our findings, more people are interested in visiting museums. Since last year March, a good number of people have visited different museums globally virtually,” says Chance Coughenour, Google Arts and Culture Global Programmes Manager.

Virtual tourism, also known as virtual reality tourism is a hybrid concept that combines both the notions of virtual reality and tourism.

It takes many different forms and comes in various degrees of technological capability.

The ‘tourist’ watches the video, utilising their hearing and sight senses. More sophisticated forms of virtual tourism, include being immersed in an environment through the use of a headset or simulator.

According to Kate Kendy Wanjiku, a content creator who has taken a series of virtual tours and is ready to take more tours for her upcoming trips, the best thing about this is the ability to navigate the space and take a closer look at specific details of the places since virtual tours come with 360-degrees vision and virtual reality video content, which are always presented engagingly.

Educational purposes

 “Other advantages of virtual tourism is that they are less costly because one only needs to access a computer or a smart device to enjoy a virtual tour.

It has very little impact on the environment, because of less carbon dioxide emissions from the various forms transport, less litter, less damage to flora and fauna, provides freedom and flexibility, and they can stimulate physical tourism,” says Kendy.

However, she  would recommend such tours to scholars for their educational purposes and research since the experience doesn’t feel authentic.

Apart from that, such tours involve limited social interaction and because of this, one doesn’t get to meet new people and try new cuisines.

According to Chance, whether at home, work, or school, all you need to do to access the tours is download the Google Arts and Culture mobile application or visit the website.

On the platform, you only need to drag your finger or cursor across the screen and wait for the app to take you on a 360-degree tour of ancient sites depending on the location you have chosen. 

“We work with cultural institutions and artists around the world. Together, our mission is to preserve and bring the world’s art and culture online so it’s accessible to anyone, anywhere.

Through our collective efforts, we have enabled people everywhere to virtually explore the world,” he says.

Currently, Google is targeting historic towns, but soon, they will expand to more towns.

To make it even more like a physical tour, they have also included food culture on the platform to ensure users get to learn more about different cuisines.

And to ensure all people get to enjoy their services they have translated the tours, videos, and stories to different languages.

“So long as one has Internet access, you can visit the platform anytime, anywhere.

We aim to enable audiences who otherwise would be unlikely to visit these museums and other sites to see their works.

We hope our videos will inspire you to visit these beautiful cities personally,” he urges.

Since 2011, Google has partnered with hundreds of cultural institutions around the world to digitise portions of their physical space and make them virtually available.

So far, they have a collection of over 2,000 museums, art galleries, and other cultural institutions.

Though this endeavour is relatively new, virtual tourism has become increasingly popular amongst industry stakeholders in recent times. Traditionally, however, they were predominantly used as a marketing tool.

A report by Research and Markets published in 2019 suggested that the industry would see strong growth in virtual tourism in the coming years.

Pancras Karema, Chief Executive Officer at Expeditions Maasai Safaris, attributes technological developments, and increases in internet usage to this growth.

No economic advantages

According to him, virtual evidence of how wonderful the holiday or tourist experiences would be is a great way to convince someone to pay as they eagerly anticipate the physical visit. 

However, he says, whilst virtual tourism is becoming quite a trend, it does not provide the economic advantages that traditional tourism does.

“Traditional types of tourism are hailed for bringing money into the host destination. However, virtual tourism is the opposite since one does not tour the destination physically.

This is a major disadvantage to the industry, because the economic benefits are the main reasons tourism is developed in many areas,” said Karema. 

On whether tour companies are willing to incorporate this in their packages, Karema says that since much of the travel experience begins online and at home, his company might consider this in the near future.

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