Monday, March 14, 2022

Virtual Reality Tourism is Now Accessible, Inclusive and Takes the Risk Out of a COVID-disrupted Getaway

As COVID-19 continues to interrupt travel plans in Australia, some of those looking for a risk-free escape are turning to virtual reality tourism.

While it may sound like a downgrade from the real thing, tour guides and designers of these happenings say it is becoming increasingly sophisticated.


Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

However, what is virtual reality tourism? Dr. Ryan Yung, a travel and tourism researcher defines it as the ability to "be physically in one location but your mind is in a different location." It can be accessed by anyone who has a PC, laptop, or mobile phone through YouTube or via virtual tours online. In addition, the experience can be enhanced by using a fold-out Google Cardboard viewer or, for those willing to spend more money, technologically advanced virtual reality headsets.


So is virtual tourism any substitute for the real thing? It is hard to compare the two, but virtual tourism does have some unique benefits, says Dr. Yung. "Some of the more popular attractions in virtual tourism [eventually] will be … places which would be physically impossible to visit," Dr. Yung says.


"If we wanted to visit Rome, for example, in the medieval times, it's possible to do so via virtual tourism."

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Some virtual experiences are also trying to integrate sensory elements, although Dr. Yung says there is still much more work to be done in this area. "With smells, they use pods, which emit synthetic smells ... similar to what you'd find in a shopping mall when you walk past a cookie stand or something with artificial smells." 


"With taste at the moment, there is no real substitute, but I believe some researchers in Singapore have come up with a technology where they can trick your mind through smell. "This is where you're drinking mineral water but, through the trick of color and smell, you can basically fool the mind into thinking [the person is] tasting something."


New Opportunities - Virtual tourism could open up destinations for those who could not access them otherwise. "A lot of the technology that's behind it [came in] years before COVID hit, and it was to overcome a lot of issues with barriers with accessibility and inclusivity," Dr. Yung says. "So people who were not mobile were able to still get some experience of the outside world."


It Offers Other Opportunities Too - For example, for those who are risk-averse, virtual tourism could be a way to take part in extreme sports safely, he says.


"[People] I've spoken to said something like … 'I would love to do something like bungee jumping but my natural fear would never let me do something like that."


"But [with] the comfort of VR, knowing that you physically will not be doing the bungee jump but you're able to experience something like that, that could be a substitute for the real experience.


"I've heard people say they want to see the Great Barrier Reef, but they are so afraid of water … so that could be [an opportunity] in the near term."


Virtual reality can also be used to travel freely without any risk of social or cultural stigmas, he adds. "There are certain behaviors [that] certain cultures expect of us when we travel overseas, or when we're out in public. And when we are hidden deep behind this virtual lens, then [virtual tourists] are able to explore different mannerisms or cultures that you normally wouldn't be able to," he says.


Therefore, for those looking to scratch their travel itch, virtual tourism is opening up the world once again, says Dr. Yung. "This is one small positive that has come up with COVID in alerting research and development [and encouraging the] acceptance of the technology by everyone else."

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