The prospect of travel is shared by many. The idea of hiking the Himalayas, walking through the Amazon, meandering through the streets of Paris. Embarking on such intrepid journeys stir the adventure bug in many. Inherent obstacles and caveats stand in between many with this dream, such as the high associated costs of flights and accommodation, family and job commitments, and health reasons.
Furthermore, some are timid with the anxiety of integrating into a new landscape outside of their comfort zone, complications with foreign languages, or even inconvenience with baggage and leaving their home. With the new introduction of virtual tourism, these obstacles have dissolved, as it allows you to see and hear the streets of Paris from your own home. It allows digital immersion into new settings, opening possibilities to allow traveling to extend to new audiences.
How Virtual Tourism Started?
Virtual tourism (VR), was initially coined as a term by Lonely Planet in 2001, referring to people issuing travel magazine subscriptions without physically traveling, living adventures through articles, and other people’s experiences. However, the term virtual tourists are being redefined, with new technology, coming about with Oculus Rift technology from 2012. Oculus Rift accelerated the VR field, and opened up new possibilities, promoting virtual tourism.
Using Headset To Immerse Into A New Environment
Virtual reality allows the immersion into a rendered environment, using a headset to have a full spatial vision. Furthermore, digital interaction through movement is achieved through sensor gloves, to simulate your hands in virtual reality. These are assisted through 5G telecommunications, helping blur the line between reality and digital.
5G And Its Role In VR
High distributed 5G access networks are imperative to bringing VR to fruition. With growing demand, Telecommunications company Ericsson reported that the 5G industry could reach USD 700 Billion by 2030, which is 35% higher than the current market. 5G allows high reliability, speed, capacity, and low latency, all integral for rendering a VR environment. Synchronizing the real and the digital world comes with high processing challenges, rendering and controller, and motion tracking, which has currently created technical barriers.
CEO of Digi Telecommunications, Albern Murty, said he is “excited at the possibilities of 5G bringing next-gen virtual tourism to many other local destinations and connect more people to experiences that matter most of them”. Malaysian airports are optimizing this technology, as COO of Panorama Langkawi, Abdul Rahman, said: “We believe that 5G has the potential to deliver new and engaging digital activities that can improve tourist experiences and enhance the appeal of Langkawi and Malaysia in the eyes of foreign tourists.”.
The Possibilities That Virtual Tourism Offers
Virtual tourism adheres to convenience and feasibility, with the potential for creativity to reign supreme. It allows us to extend the capabilities and reach of reality, to engage in environments not possible, from our own home. Utilizing the new 5G technology, which enables 360 perspective 4K renderings at 60FPS, immersion is becoming more representative of reality. The general aim is not fully to render physical traveling unnecessary but to enhance tourism.
Covid-19 And Its Horrific Effect On The Travel Industry
With recent developments in COVID, the travel industry has halted, thus radically fuelling the VR tourism industry. Travel is on hiatus at the moment, which has sent people scrambling to itch the travel bug.
Douglas Quinby, from travel research firm Phocuswright, outlines the issue with “You have hundreds of thousands of tour companies and tour guides right now who are really in trouble, and they’re trying to think of creative ways to remain relevant, They’re trying to bring their experiences into people’s homes because that’s the only place people are right now.”. The tourism industry on standstill is radically fuelling the VR tourism space.
Countries That Use Virtual Tourism To Stimulate The Economy
Some countries are employing virtual tourism in hopes to stimulate their tourism-reliant economy. Rwandan computer scientist, Patrick Karangwa, outlined that “I don’t see myself as competing with traditional tourism. I create an additional layer of information that encourages people to travel to places. It is really an advantage for travel businesses, hotels, restaurants, and the industry in general.”
He views VR as not competing against tourism and doesn’t redirect physical travel incentives. Furthermore, conservation efforts “will be good for nature conservation because nature fans like me would then donate for these giraffes, rhinoceroses or elephants”.
Conservation efforts extend to sites and destinations that incur damage from large groups of tourists. Maya Bay in Thailand has been closed to tourists, due to environmental damage. Other major destinations have increased consideration to curb visitor rates, such as Machu Picchu. VR could play a role as a substitute, which would protect the sites.
CyArk Tries To Map UNESCO Heritage Sites
An Oakland non-profit company called CyArk seeks to digitally map UNESCO heritage sites, providing modeling suitable for VR interaction. Elizabeth Lee, vice president of the CyArk program department, said “I don’t think international travel is going to bounce back any time this year, so I think people are going to look for different ways to experience the culture and explore historic sites. Whether that’s virtually or some other way”.
Traditional ‘travel tours’ are somewhat a physical embodiment of what virtual tourism strives to be. Tourists are shepherded in herds through historic sites, displaying artifacts and monuments and embellished landmarks. This format flourishes through the VR format, in the sense that tourists are guided, heavily managed in somewhat set-up environments, without deviating from the narrative.
Virtual Tourism’s Competitive Advantage
Sir David Attenborough said “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 the glass. You want to be able to look at it and see the back of it and turn it around and so on”. Virtual tourism technology can allow you to interact with the 3D rendered objects, it will allow you to experience historic battles as a bystander, it will open up access to new worlds.
There are marketing applications as well. Some argue for the basis of using virtual tourism as a precursor for if you want to indulge in the future, the equivalent of watching a movie trailer to assess impressions before watching the full movie. “Virtual tourism is a great opportunity for seeing whether you want to visit a particular destination for real,” says Gerald Ferreira, the founder of the Virtual Reality Company in South Africa. “People can also try out what adventure tourism is like before they try something like bungee jumping, for example“. A survey showed that 30% of Australian tourists were considering using VR to plan a holiday.
As with most growing technological fields, it is interesting to forecast the future. Will virtual tourism soon hold the basis for substituting a real touristic experience? With the current technology, physical travel allows more vision, audio, smells, tastes, and atmosphere, which are all lost with virtual tourism. Furthermore, the culture, the people, and the food are driving factors drawing people to travel. Currently, it is more of a superficial immersive experience, which cannot be embodied. A short virtual tourism experience can replace a tour around a site, but cannot replace travel. Whether virtual tourism has the capacity to substitute physical travel is less definitive, but it has opened a new capacity for a different audience to experience travel.
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