Virtual Tourism: Recreating the world in VR

The one thing that really frustrates you in a museum is when you see something really fascinating, you don’t want to be separated from it by glass. You want to be able to look at it and see the back of it and turn it around and so on.
– David Attenborough

With the current situation of lock-downs, travel bans, and the pandemic limiting where people can go, tourism has all but ceased.  With more people working from home, business travels have also decreased considerably taking the world to the new phase of digital transformation; Virtual tourism.

Bridging the gap for the wanderlusts, the most flaunted technology of the 21st  Century, Virtual Reality (VR) has stepped in to rebuild and transform the tourism industry to new forms, content, and experiences. Harnessing the potential of VR, many businesses in the travel and tourism sector has set out to engage their visitors with interactive and immersive experiences.

Come let us delve into the topic of Virtual tourism in detail.


Integration of VR into tourism

Virtual Reality is the use of a computer-generated 3D environment called the ‘virtual

environment’ (VE) to navigate and interact in real-time. Here, ‘navigate’ refers to the ability to move around and explore the VE, and ‘interact’ refers to the ability to select and move objects within the VR. The transportative nature of VR can stimulate one or more of the user’s five senses with computer-generated images, and immerse them into a fully three-dimensional, interactive experience. In essence, VR facilitates a tourism experience, without actually having to travel anywhere.


What is virtual tourism?

Virtual tourism is a hybrid concept that combines the notion of tourism with Virtual Reality. In essence, virtual tourism, also known as smart tourism, facilitates a tourism experience, without actually having to travel anywhere. The Virtual tourism experience takes different forms and comes in varying degrees of technological capability. In its most simple form, virtual tourism may comprise a video of a tourist destination and the tourist/user gets to watch the video and get an insight into the place, its history, etc. In a more sophisticated form, virtual tourism allows the tourist to get immersed in an environment through the use of a VR headset or a simulator. It may also involve the use of various other props, such as gloves to experience the additional sensations such as movement (as in a roller coaster simulator), feeling (if the user is sprayed with water), and smell, etc.


Rise of virtual tourism

For some time now, there has been growing popularity in the use of VR in the tourism industry as a marketing tool. Destination Management Organisations (DMOs), tour operators, and tourist attractions have been using VR as a means of promoting; hoping that the VR experience will lure the tourists and bring in new business. In addition, VR also saw an attraction in physical tourism. For example, at theme parks, there may be a mix of actual rides and virtual rides. In order to enhance the tourist experience, museums would also often include virtual presentations and activities. However, the recent Covid-19 outbreak has resulted in the world coming to a halt, immobilizing the tourism industry almost completely. With many people confined to their homes and travel and tourism businesses closed, people have turned to the next best alternative; virtual tourism.

Virtual tourism uses a broad spectrum of digitally mediated technologies (including Virtual Reality, Mixed Reality, and Augmented Reality) to artificially enhance or create a tourism experience. A range of media can be used to facilitate a virtual experience, such as mobile devices, software programs, etc. Throughout recent years, there has been a slow but steady growth in the use of virtual reality in the tourism industry. According to a report by Research and Markets published in 2019, the tourism industry is expected to see strong growth in virtual tourism in the coming years.


Types of virtual tourism

Virtual tourism comes in different shapes and sizes. Some forms of virtual tourism require little more than a computer or a smart device, whereas others require a complex set of technologies. Here are the five main types of virtual tourism:

 

  • Try before you buy

In its early form, virtual tourism focussed on the concept of marketing. The combination of Virtual reality and virtual experience software allows potential customers to try before they buy. Proven to be very successful, many tourism-based organizations have actively pursued and developed these forms for VR marketing when the cost of the product or service being sold is high. A very good example of this is British Airways that developed a virtual tour of their business class only aircraft operating between London City Airport and New York. Thus allowing potential customers to trail out the service and to explore the aircraft prior to committing to pay for the ticket.

 

  • Visit real places without leaving your couch

Google earth has really been a game-changer in this realm of virtual tourism. Google Earth allows you to explore areas throughout the world at the touch of a button. Whether you want to take a look at the street down the road or see the Pyramids of Giza, almost every part of the world is now documented by the Google camera. Many organizations will adopt similar principles, whereby you can use software to virtual tour a specified area. This could be a house, a forest, or a tourist attraction, for example.

 

  • Visit places of the past

One of the great technological feats of virtual tourism is the ability to recreate destinations or attractions from the past. Using current images alongside computer generation projections, developers are able to design software that allows tourists to experience types of tourism that are no longer available. Some programs allow users to toggle the time and transport themselves to any time or place that they wish. It’s not only tourism operators who are developing such software either. The University of Reading has developed a course that is free for anyone to sign up for. The course is run by Dr. Matthew Nicholls, using his detailed and award-winning 3D digital model of the city.

 

  • Visit areas that are inaccessible

There are many parts of this world that are off-limits. We cannot afford to travel there, maybe because they are in remote locations or because the area is closed off entirely to visitors. However, with the advent of virtual tourism, there is no part of the world that is inaccessible.

If there is a place that you have been dying to visit, but have been unable to; virtual tourism can help you get there.

 

  • Visit areas that do not exist

The final type of virtual tourism, and one that is yet to really take off, is the ability to visit areas that do not actually exist. Second Life is one such well-known platform offering this type of virtual tourism. It is effectively an online world in which you are able to create a virtual representation of yourself, called an avatar, and connect with various places, people, etc.

 

Advantages of virtual tourism

Virtual tourism has its advantages both for the tourism industry and for the tourist. Here are the main advantages of virtual tourism.

 

  • Virtual tourism is good for the environment

With the rise in sustainable tourism and an increased number of initiatives for being environmentally friendly, tourists and stakeholders alike are now looking into the importance of environmental management in the industry. One of the great things about virtual tourism is that it has very little impact on the environment. The tourism industry is known for its negative environmental impacts, however, these are minimized tenfold if the tourist does not actually travel. Virtual tourism means less CO2 emissions from transport, less litter, less damage to flora and fauna, and less disruption to natural ecology and wildlife. Thus, less negative social impacts of tourism.

 

  • Virtual tourism provides freedom and flexibility

When undertaking a virtual experience you often have more flexibility. Going on safari in Africa? If it’s a virtual safari you don’t need to change out of your pyjamas. Sitting out at night to watch the Northern Lights in Norway? No need to worry about wrapping up warm, just put the heating on in your house. Many virtual trips can be taken at your leisure according to your preferred time schedule too.

 

  • Virtual tourism costs less

Whilst you do need access to a computer, smart device, etc, the total cost of undertaking a virtual trip is far less than if you were to take a physical trip. In fact, many virtual tourism activities are actually free of charge!

 

  •  Virtual tourism can encourage physical tourism

Because virtual tourism is often used as a marketing tool, it has the potential to stimulate actual tourism. This means that a person may purchase a flight or book a hotel because they have experienced it virtually first.

 

Downsides of virtual tourism

Whilst virtual tourism is becoming quite a popular trend, it is not perfect. Here are some of the major disadvantages of virtual tourism:

 

  • Not accessible to all

Not everybody has the access to digital devices that are required to undertake virtual tourism. Additionally, many parts of the world do not have adequate wifi connections to support this type of smart tourism.

 

  • Do not provide the economic advantages that traditional tourism does

Whilst an advantage of virtual tourism is that it does not require much money to be spent, this is also its disadvantage. Conventional tourism is hailed for bringing money into the host destination. In fact, the economic benefits from those types of tourism are the main reason that tourism is developed in many areas. The larger adoption of virtual tourism can take away these advantages.

 

  • Limited social interaction

One of the most obvious disadvantages of virtual tourism is that it involves less social interaction and the limited ability to interact with the headset as it gives some people headaches after a while. For some people, this type of tourism may be what they are looking for, but for others who seek company and kinship during their leisure trips, this may not be the one.

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Applications of Virtual tourism

 

With more people choosing to partake in vicarious travel experiences via VR, virtual tourism has become an invaluable tool in the tourism industry. The six areas of tourism in which VR may prove valuable are:

 

Planning and management

In tourism, the planning and management process is integral for attracting visitors to destinations. The unique capabilities of VR can benefit tourism planning and management. The attributes of VR are uniquely suitable for the visualization of spatial environments which can be exploited for the purposes of planning and management. VR permits the creation of realistic, navigable VEs that tourism planners can analyze and plan. In comparison with the rudimentary two-dimensional models, VR models offer numerous advantages. For instance, VR models allow planners to observe an environment from an unlimited number of perspectives instead of just a bird’s-eye view, and they also permit the rapid visualization of potential changes that can be subsequently assessed. VR also can serve as a useful tool for communicating tourism plans to groups and communities, and possibly receiving input from such individuals. VR offers a way for individuals from diverse backgrounds to communicate through a visual language that mimics the way people interact with the environment in the real world. VR also can be exploited to simulate environmental impacts like soil erosion, in order to improve land use planning in tourism destinations.

 

Marketing

Just as VR can be used to plan and manage a destination, it has the potential to revolutionize the marketing, promotion, and selling of tourist destinations. The marketing potential of VR

lies primarily in its ability to provide extensive sensory information. This capability is especially suitable for the tourism industry as many tourism products are ‘confidence goods’ that consumers are unable to test in advance and must decide whether or not to purchase based on the available descriptive information. Internet marketing is, therefore, very important for the

tourism sector. The experiential nature of VR makes it an optimal tool for providing rich data to potential tourists seeking information on destinations. For example, if a person is interested in exploring an island destination such as Hawaii, Maldives, and others, using a VR device, the tourist would be able to enter virtual island destinations and make better informed decisions. Many tourism places in fact, already use VR or VR-type technologies to attract tourists. For instance, on the Internet one can find many hotels and destinations offering ‘virtual tours’, these ‘virtual tours’ often are simply panoramic photographs that do not permit any free navigation, meaning they are not genuine VR, but they importantly still reveal an interest in VR-type technologies. They serve as indirect evidence that visiting tourism destinations in VR may encourage real visitation where the tourists can seek out travel information, communicate with other tourists, and make better travel purchases.

 

Entertainment 

In addition to serving as a tourism marketing tool, VR systems can also entertain tourists. In fact, VR began with the 1962 patent of a device called the ‘Sensorama Simulator’ offering entertaining, simulated motorcycle rides through New York City, providing 3D images, sound, wind, aromas, and seat vibrations. As VR technology has subsequently evolved, the entertainment and the video game industry, in particular, has continued to play a large role in this evolution. Another example is the Cyber Speedway in Las Vegas, in which the user maneuvers around a virtual roadway while sitting in a replica racecar with a 20-foot wraparound screen. Another logical place to offer VR is theme parks for example the Dreamworld theme park in Australia offers a ‘V8 Supercars RedLine’, ‘Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride’ users wearing an HMD use a motorcycle-type apparatus to race through a VE on a virtual magic carpet, etc can attract more and more people. The only disadvantage here is that such VR-enabled theme parks can only be permitted in urban areas that may not be accessible to a large number of people.

 

Education

Aside from simply being entertaining, VR technologies also offer tremendous potential as an educational tool. VR allows great potential for interaction, such as through games or challenges that are important to encourage users to remain engaged. The educational potential of VR can be exploited in museums, heritage areas, and other tourist sites. For example, the Foundation of the Hellenic World, a Greek cultural heritage institution, established a VR department in 1998 that offers a variety of educational VR exhibits in its Cultural Center. These exhibits transport the users to VEs and allow them to journey through the ancient city, become archaeologists, or conduct virtual experiments in different time periods that represent the relevant eras, etc. In another example of VR’s educational potential, Zoo Atlanta at one time offered a ‘Virtual Reality Gorilla Exhibit’ in which the users get to assume the character of a young gorilla to explore the virtual gorilla habitat embedded with various educational multimedia information. Besides being used in such ways to educate tourists, VR also can function as a unique and valuable investigative tool permitting researchers to gain greater knowledge about the sites and objects that they visit. VR provides numerous advantages for researchers as well, allowing them to test theories or evaluate virtual restorations without disturbing actual objects. VR offers the ability to observe objects from otherwise impossible viewpoints and the potential to re-create environments and lighting to observe how a site or object would have appeared in the past which is less perceptible under modern lighting.

 

Accessibility

The opportunity for researchers to investigate virtual re-creations of different sites demonstrates the general increase in ‘‘accessibility’’ that VR provides to both researchers and the general tourists. Such access is only limited to a virtual world, yet it certainly is preferable to any alternative apart from actual visitation, which in many cases may be impossible to explore. For instance, some tourist sites may be too remote, too expensive, too inhospitable, too dangerous, too fragile, or simply no longer exist. In addition to providing the best possible

alternative in such scenarios, virtual models also can permit unique interaction with historical objects or other fragile items that cannot be done in the real world. One example of such increased access offered by VR is provided by an exhibit once developed for China’s Dunhuang Caves. Beginning in the fourth century, Buddhist monks dug and decorated these caves with thousands of statues and 45,000 square meters of painted murals, but the site mostly had been closed to tourists as the tourists’ presence, along with other factors, was damaging the site. Thus a VR exhibit was developed where the visitors could navigate a re-creation of the caves using a virtual flashlight to illuminate the murals while a virtual voice provided background information. In addition to offering virtual access to otherwise inaccessible sites like the Dunhuang Caves, VR also can provide widespread access to a virtual site when the VR application is made accessible over the Internet. VR’s capacity to facilitate access to sites can benefit everyone, yet this capacity is particularly useful for disabled individuals. Disabled people who travel, or would like to travel, comprise a large yet often overlooked market. Unfortunately, they face a range of sometimes insurmountable barriers, including unaccommodating architecture or landscape, transportation difficulties, etc. Physical access barriers sometimes can be easily eliminated with cooperation from tourism providers, but in some sites, such as historical heritage sites, altering physical features to accommodate disabled visitors may be impossible due to conservation requirements or prohibitively large costs. In such situations, VR can provide disabled tourists with alternative forms of access. For instance, disabled visitors to Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon may be physically unable to access the house’s second floor, so the site has installed a VR exhibit on the first floor that offers a VR re-creation of the floor above for easy access. Additionally, online virtual worlds can provide outlets where disabled individuals can bypass traditional barriers and enjoy dynamic and interactive virtual travel experiences.

 

Heritage preservation 

The list of heritage sites and objects that can be accessed virtually is constantly expanding and countless heritage sites and objects from around the world already have been digitized as 3D virtual models as we speak. Countless examples of heritage sites and objects that have been rendered as 3D models such as Michelangelo’s statues of David and the Florentine Pieta`, the Great Buddha carving from Afghanistan, various castles in Northern Italy, the Hawara pyramid complex from ancient Egypt, etc. Rendering such sites and objects as virtual 3D models can function as a valuable tool for heritage preservation as such virtual models contain extremely precise and accurate data sets that can be stored indefinitely. While a site or object may suffer degradation from impacts like erosion, a VR model can provide precise information on its earlier form that can be used both to monitor the degradation as well as offer a blueprint for restoration. In fact, some of the world’s most treasured sites – those listed under UNESCO World Heritage Sites, may be particularly threatened simply because their World Heritage status attracts increased numbers of visitors to the point of destruction. The number of visitors is a major threat to the sustainability of such sites. Thus, according to researchers, VR could potentially function to preserve heritage by providing an alternative form of access to threatened sites. With VR offering realistic experiences, it could offer a way of visiting sensitive environments that cannot cope with demand significantly lessening the impacts of visitor encroachment. Thus, virtual tourism can help preserve the heritage and improve opportunity by giving visitors access to a simulation, rather than placing the original cultural site at risk of destruction.

 

Here are some Apps that can satisfy those with a desire to travel.

Google Earth VR

Google Earth VR puts the world within one’s reach. When the original Google Earth appeared on the scene years ago, everybody was taken aback that they could see their own home remotely thanks to satellite imagery. Google Earth VR takes this excitement to a whole new level. Now, you can’t just see your home from Space, but you can actually fly to it virtually and stand on your roof or in your front yard! Even more impressively, you can change the position of the sun to suit your preferences, scale things to your preferred size, and move around wherever you want to. If you are the one who ever wanted to fly around the globe, this app is the one for you.


GoPro

The brand GoPro known best for its action cameras has now entered the VR sector. These 360° GoPro videos allow you to experience all kinds of locations and activities from bike riding to surfing. The app enables one to discover world-famous sights like the Golden Gate Bridge and take an up-close-and-personal tour of New York City.

 

India VR

Indian Ministry of Tourism has paired up with Google Arts and Culture to make a video in 360° that showcases some of the nation’s most beautiful and iconic landmarks. India VR gives an interactive and engaging tour of the Qutub Minar, Red Fort, the temples of Hampi along other stunning cultural landmarks. It’s the perfect way to discover the adventure and treat that a trip to India could hold before booking your flight.

 

NASA

Who wouldn’t be thrilled to experience space? Now, you can achieve that from your sofa with the NASA app that brings you 360° videos and images of Mars. Though this app is not particularly intended for travel and tourism options, it deserves a mention as it raises the potential of future vacations.

Whether you want to go to space or to the grand canyon or to the Taj Mahal, our leading Virtual Reality development team can extend the best-in-class real-world experience and interactive Virtual Tourism Apps for a fantastic VR travel experience. 

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To Conclude: What is more and what is next

Even as the world returns to normal, Virtual Reality and virtual events are here to stay. As VR technologies continue to evolve and expand their horizons, more and more people are now getting hooked up with its immersive and sophisticated experiences. From buying houses to staging events,  Virtual Reality is well-received and is estimated to transform many industries.

Whether you’re just an avid tech geek, or a business owner looking for the next great idea to invest your money in, the virtual reality market is going to be one that you really want to pay close attention to.

Are you looking to create a 360-degree panoramic view of the spaces and destinations you are promoting to potential customers? Well! TA is the right choice for you.

Stay up to date on all the technology trends and happenings with TA.

Adios, now you know all about virtual tourism!

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