The pandemic has changed a lot for us and more for the environment. We’ve chosen to stay in and stay safe. There are many rules and regulations on health and sanitisation that have been looked into for well-being. This also gets a hold on all the travel plans due to the health regulations imposed by the governments of the different countries. But countering that virtual travel has taken over space.
With almost three fourth of the world having travel restrictions cause of the coronavirus pandemic, there are series of the organisation providing virtual reality tours which adventurists and travellers are seeking, there is a high potential with this trend staying back for the long run. Virtual reality has given us the advantage of being in our personal space and exploring far-flung destinations, be it Machu Picchu or coastal Tanzania. It is also a very sustainable way to travel as it decreases the avg human carbon footprint and with a minimal environmental impact.
This is a key solution to the problem of over-tourism and is the most eco-friendly way. It provides en number of ecological benefits, which the coronavirus lockdown has surfaced that include cleaner air and water.
The question may arise as to, will tourist and travellers still have an interest in travelling virtually beyond the pandemic? And will VR technology sustain in the industry?
Virtual travel experiences are growing in popularity. Valeriy Kondruk, CEO of a VR travel company Ascape, has seen app downloads grow 60 per cent from December (traditionally the busiest month) and double since January. In destinations that are overcrowded such as Machu Picchu, virtual reality experiences can help ease the infrastructure of the location.
Airlines have jumped on the trend of virtual reality too. Emirates has created virtual tours of its Airbus A380 planes, so you can sip a real cocktail at home while pretending you’re at the onboard bar. Hawaiian Airlines launched a series of video tutorials, teaching the basics of the islands’ native language and how to make poke bowls like the ones served at Honolulu’s Koko Head Café. And so has Airbnb, which known as Airbnb Experiences, into digital formats after looking at google art and cultures 360-degree view of artefacts and museums around the world.. “We wanted to make sure that we could really transport people with an online experience and not lose the magic of connection and authenticity,” says Catherine Powell, Airbnb’s Global Head of Hosting.
These almost real experiences still have as many disadvantages to their merits, the technology hasn’t reached its best. 360-degree virtual reality videos are experienced through a headset or an app. The headsets are expensive, heavy and are not comfortable to wear. There is no sense of touch, smell and feel. The local food cannot be tasted and experienced and these experiences are timed.
Virtual reality extends only as far as it’s engineered. A traveller who is visiting India, in reality, can decide where to go and what to see. They can be influenced by the culture and by the people who are natives to the place. But the traveller going to India via virtual reality might never experience the climate or the country’s experience. It’s what the VR production company wants to offer and everyone of them might be designed differently, it might show or portray different worlds and be biased.
Virtual reality may be of help in places like Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc, a Paleolithic cave painting site in southern France, which is too vulnerable to be visited. A nearby replica allows tourists to see copies of the paintings, leading to a higher potential of virtual reality travel experiences.
Virtual reality may never replace traditional travel, but it still offers intriguing possibilities. If the technology becomes articulate and more environmentally conscious with its objective in aiming to reduce our carbon footprint and people sensitivity it can play a big role in the change of the tourism industry in case of a future pandemic or in general. VR travel does bring parts of the world to people who are physically unable to visit certain landmarks. It can get you an experience of Paris or in a tap of a button at your own comfort and it could help bring people to places that are otherwise inaccessible like area 51 for example.
In the end, it all filters down to how virtual reality impacts travel and will be determined by the evolution and application of new technologies. There has been slow progress and not at a scale that is likely to disrupt the travel industry or support a drop in travel-related carbon emissions after the pandemic has ended. But just as travel platforms, from print to social media, offer some of the discoveries of actual exploration, virtual reality might bring faraway places closer and in so doing encourage travellers to embrace sustainable practices in deciding the destinations they want to visit in the future.