Will virtual tourism take off in 2021?

Virtual tourism might be taking off, but tech can never replace the joy of travel.

As we prepare to leave twelve months of travel restrictions and lockdowns behind, many will naturally have a strong impulse and desire to travel. Traditionally, it's the time of year when we are bombarded with holiday ads that fuel our wanderlust and a longing to tick a few items off our bucket lists. Despite the arrival of a vaccine, the reality is that the freedoms we took for granted are still just out of reach.

With many of the world's most famous attractions still closed for business, some are turning to virtual reality to get their travel fix. By leveraging technology, it is now possible to explore a more sustainable and accessible way to travel the world. But are people ready to embrace the concept of travel without travelling?

The rise of virtual tourism

If your partner brought you a virtual tour rather than a flight ticket or city break as a gift last year, you might have shaken your head in disbelief. But after a year of being isolated within the four walls of our homes, many are now more open-minded to the emerging alternative to traditional forms of travel. Especially, if it can help support those impacted by a lack of tourists.

Amazon recently launched a service called Amazon Explore to tackle all of these problems and help the industry respond to the past year's challenges. The live-streaming service enables travellers to enjoy a live virtual tour with a local expert.

The experience can take you on a live trip around famous landmarks and the secret places where locals prefer to hang out.

There is also a chance to learn new skills from tie-dyeing to pan-frying. Finally, your virtual tour can take you on a unique shopping experience where you can even browse and purchase those items that you can only find when travelling.

Airbnb also invites the global community to link up with hosts to enjoy unique online experiences and activities from the comfort of your home. There is a long list of appealing virtual tours and activities such as meditation with Buddhist monks to cooking with a Moroccan family. Most importantly, it gives you a chance to help the industry respond to the challenges caused by the global pandemic.

Virtual tourism campaigns

If you are looking for inspiration or just prioritizing your bucket list, a quick virtual trip around the world's most famous landmarks such as Machu Picchu, Christ the Redeemer Statue, Angkor Wat, and the Taj Mahal might make choosing your next destination a little easier.

Digital applications and immersive experiences can never replace the sights, sounds, smells, atmosphere, and excitement of roaming around the world. But imaginative virtual campaigns can help tourist boards to keep their destination at the top of your bucket list for future trips.

Technology is enabling tourist boards to redefine location discovery. Whether you are exploring Lithuania in VR, join David Attenborough on an interactive journey to the Great Barrier Reef or dare enter the Tomb of Queen Meresankh III. The world is now just a swipe away.

Travellers, destinations, and attractions can all benefit from using these new advances in travel technology. It can ensure that you book the right trip for you and explore a country virtually before committing to doing it for real. It can also help you book the right hotel and perfect trips to ensure your next holiday will be one to remember for the rest of your life.

The future of travel

Virtual wine tasting in South Africa or learning how to make coffee in Costa Rica can provide a much-needed escape from being quarantined in our homes. It can also help the global community through a challenging period while also providing inspiration for real-world travel when restrictions are eventually lifted.

However, we need to be careful that our over-reliance on technology doesn't lead to us unwittingly sleepwalking into a world that mirrors the Ready Player One movie. A fake future where risk-averse humans retreat from socially distancing to hide behind a headset in a fantasy world because it feels safer.

Virtual tourism is a great stopgap and tool to help travellers support areas impacted through a lack of tourism and book future trips.

But nothing can replace being surrounded by the smells, tastes, sounds, sights, or being exposed to new places, people, and experiences. It's the building and strengthening of these relationships that help expand our perspective and be a better global citizen.

When reflecting on our lives and the events of the past twelve months, learning more about different cultures, ancient traditions and enjoying authentic encounters with others is something that many of us will crave. Our wings might be clipped for the time being, but we can still play a part in supporting the global community and start planning those future trips.

When that moment arrives, remember to take off the VR headset, look away from your smartphone, and soak up the refreshing perspectives in another city or country far away from the algorithms that currently dominate our lives.