Updated: Jul 6, 2020
According to CEO of Airbnb, Brian Chesky, “The travel as we knew it is over. Not travel itself, but as we knew it, is over. It's just never coming back. It's just not". Virtual travel has been the next big thing for years, but its relevance has peaked since the start of this global pandemic. The future of remote travel does not show signs of replacing actual travel itself, but its technology presents endless benefits to the travel and tourism industry.
For now and we think for at least the next 6 months, the whole world has been temporarily grounded, but thanks to giant leaps in technology, we have the opportunity to continue to tour the rest of the world from pretty much anywhere.
What is virtual travel?
Virtual travel experiences have seen a surge in popularity recently. About 90% of the world is under travel restrictions. Many players in the tourism industry have taken a hit due to the inability for people to travel across borders. However, more than a handful of these companies have become resilient and adapted in these challenging times to overcome the issue of travel limitations by introducing virtual travel.
New to the travel industry but familiar in the digital landscape, online travel allows users to virtually travel across borders by digital means ranging from Virtual Reality to easy-to-use video calls whereby you join a live, interactive guide in another country.
Benefits of virtual travel
1. Forge local connections and lasting friendships
Ever had a pressing question about where you wanted to travel that even TripAdvisor couldn’t answer? Speak with a local yourself and put all your worries aside. Through live, interactive calls you not only have the chance to experience a city virtually, but you can speak with a guide yourself. Some questions are just answered better by locals - no one really knows the city better than them! Whether it’s about the city nightlife or the most kid-friendly hotels, who has better know-how than a local themself?
2. Greater ease in trip-planning
A picture is worth a thousand words, but a video is worth a million pictures. No string of words could be a perfect description of a scenic view. Through virtual travel, get a live preview of the place you’d like to visit in the future, and vet its worth on your own eyes! Most people feel more comfortable travelling after understanding where they’re really going, and virtual travel enables them to do so. After all, humans are visual creatures!
3. Doesn’t break your bank
Experience more of the world on a way smaller budget! According to an Agoda study done last year, among the non-Asia Pacific markets (UK, US, UAE), Americans are the least travelled, with over 29% having never travelled overseas. The most common excuses lie in travel being too expensive and not worth the money, having small children, or even maybe the fear of travelling alone (or never having travelled at all!). Though rational, these excuses shouldn’t stop you from exploring more of the world. With advances in modern technology, be transported to the sleepless city of Tel Aviv or the iconic canals of Amsterdam.
4. Share travel experiences with distant friends and family
Everyone has kept travel plans in their rearview mirror - hopping around Europe with your mother after graduation, or exploring Asia with your friends once you’ve found your work-life balance - hoping one day you can actually get to them. Stop delaying these adventures and start living them now! Through virtual travel, you have the chance to reconnect with friends and family from across the world and experience online tours together.
5. Experience what you’d miss out as a tourist
Virtual travel entails a more personalised experience where you can get up and close with the life of a true local. Through online tours, local guides have the chance to give you exclusive tours inside their homes, introduce you to other local friends and show you unique hangout spots - in addition to hitting the popular landmarks. Not impossible for the average tourist, but a lot more challenging!
We’ve all seen the slums of Mumbai, but only a virtual tour of Dharavi can truly show you what’s behind the walls of clay and plastic.
6. Eco-friendly solution to the problem of overtourism
Overtourism - a term whose pertinence has been peaked since 2015 - is an underlying issue yet to be addressed in the travel industry. It refers to overcrowding from excess tourists in a foriegn country, resulting in conflicts with the locals. Thanks to virtual travel, you can plan your itinerary such that you hit the overcrowded popular destinations through virtual tours, and spend your limited time when you travel to visit the more unfrequented and secluded landmarks.
7. A friend of social distancing
We’re all pretty much stuck at home anyways - let’s make the most of it! In addition to being a disruptive solution to travel restrictions, online tours are a great place to meet like-minded friends. Why risk going out when you can explore the vibrant street art of Cape Town and make interesting friends along the way. Virtual travel is truly a viable solution to travel delays, while encouraging people to stay at home.
8. Experience tourism
In recent years, there has been a rising scope in the field of life-enhancing experiences called experience tourism. In this day and age, for businesses to remain competitive, they must stand out from a horde of others who simply offer products. Virtual tourism seeks out activities that appeal to "niche personal interests” rather than on “checking must-see sites and monuments off the to-do list.” The regular traveller no longer wants to just visit museums and city squares, but instead wants to live with the local and pick up skills during their stay. Online tours provide a much more enriching opportunity for travellers to enjoy a “live like a local” experience and gain a more holistic view of the city they’re visiting.
9. Go pretty much anywhere
Do you often find yourself restricted when it comes to visiting landmarks that are a day-long ride away from where you’re staying? Or maybe you’re unable to explore certain areas because they aren’t wheelchair accessible? With the help of a live, online interactive guide, you no longer need to hold back on going to certain places because virtual travel can open your eyes to a world of possibilities, where limited accessibility no longer holds you back!