Virtual tourism: new choices for the new normal

With Covid-19 still in the picture, travelling in 2021 continues to look like an impossible deed. These past few months have made us seek alternatives for family and friends’ reunions, work, leisure, exercise, and pretty much any other activity in our lives. But tourism has been one of the most affected industries, as it seemed not much could be done in this matter.

However, not everything is lost: virtual tourism, an option that has existed for a long time but has not been given much thought up until recently, has made its great appearance to save our holiday periods and help us to escape the monotony of being at home for so long.

This unknown industry has its origins in the 90s, when virtual reality and tourism were merged to create a tour of Dudley Castle, a 1500s English fortress. In almost 30 years, the technology has seen an extraordinary evolution that has managed to immerse the users as if it were real life.

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What is virtual tourism?

Essentially, virtual tourism consists of the representation of a location by means of 3D photography, videos, or computer-created images, simulating the real experience of the actual place. It is sometimes accompanied by sound effects, music, interactive tools, and texts.

Despite virtual reality being associated with VR glasses, the experience can go from the simplest videos on your computer to very immersive elements in which you can even move and feel in real life. You may have already experienced it: amusement parks have been using this technology for a long time in virtual roller coasters that mimic the movements and images of a real one, but with the wagons not actually moving from their place.

Besides the difference the technology used can make, virtual tourism also has an ample variety of experiences to choose from. It can involve a simple tour to try an experience before actually doing it; visits to museums, monuments, or expositions without leaving your home; a recreation of historical events; or even living in imaginary worlds. The number of choices is huge, and the experiences are becoming more and more personalised.

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Virtual tourism: is it worth it?

Many people have their doubts about this kind of virtual activity. Like with every other new enterprise, we can encounter numerous positive and negative aspects to analyse, and we can put them on a scale to see if it meets our expectations.

On the positive side, the most compelling element right now is the possibility to leave our own reality. Lockdowns and restrictions have made it the only option for inveterate travellers, who have seen their touristic possibilities reduced enormously. Virtual reality provides them, and all of us, with a small dose of clearance from routine, a vaccine from reality.

By avoiding planes and airports, we are not only protecting ourselves from Covid-19, but we are also skipping the tiredness, the waiting, the crowds, the uncomfortable seats, the queues… All of that is gone with virtual reality. Plus, the cost of travel is decreased extremely by not having to spend any money on plane tickets, accommodation, and transport. And the environment can also benefit from this!

Virtual travel is a very flexible option that allows you to do it at any time and place, and its immediacy gives you the convenience of deciding whether to stay or not; if you are enjoying the experience, you can be there for longer, but you can also leave at any moment and be home! This is also a great advantage to help you plan your future real-life trips: sometimes we get disappointed by places, and this way you can take a peek before and choose to go there in person if you liked it.

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Another great asset to these unusual travels is the option to see forbidden places, sites that are closed to the public for conservation purposes and you would not be able to visit in any other way.

Of course, not everything can be positive. This sort of experience is still lacking a few elements, the most notorious one falling on the real-life tourism industry: the loss of money for travel agencies, airlines, the hospitality industry, transport agencies, and everything related to tourism is immense. They have been hit by the economic situation more than anyone, with the loss of this field related jobs being such a big problem.

From the tourist’s point of view, the interaction with the environment is extremely limited. They can only do what the computer programme allows them to, not being able to choose every single step of their trip. The cultural immersion is reduced to a minimum, with no social interaction with the natives, and not having the chance to experience local food or customs.

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Planning your virtual holidays

Even though you may have to spend your free days at home, it does not mean you cannot make great plans and enjoy them. You can plan what to do, as you would if you were to go somewhere, and take your time to relax and charge your batteries.

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First, choose the virtual experience of your liking. There are all sorts of activities to pick from, like this Mount Everest interactive map you can explore on your phone, a virtual safari that is being broadcasted live, a visit through Paris’s Catacombs, or a relaxing walk on a tropical beach.

Then, you can add activities to do at home, like giving yourself a spa day, taking the time to research and cook typical food from the place you are visiting, or ordering food from an exotic restaurant if cooking is not your strength!

Virtual reality is growing day by day, and the experiences are getting even more real. The future of virtual tourism looks promising, with the addition of more multisensory settings and personalisation of the whole events to make it unique for each user. This might not substitute the real experience of holidays, but for now, it gives you a break and a different experience while the world recomposes itself, and allows you to do the real thing, all from the comfort and safety of your home.

Julia Villanueva
Julia Villanueva

Spaniard living in Ireland, passionate about literature, learning languages, and knowing different cultures.

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