Virtual tourism might help to quench your travel thirst and visit Colombia or anywhere in the world without leaving your home.
If travel restrictions have left you with a case of itchy feet, a new form of armchair travel might be just the ticket. With virtual tours, you can travel the world without worrying about Covid tests or quarantines.
Sergio Navas is one of the front runners of this progressive new approach to tour guiding – one of the hardest-hit industries by Covid travel restrictions. The concept of a virtual tour is novel yet basic. Guides conduct a tour on a digital platform, which is often live-streamed to viewers. Tourists can enjoy some of the aspects of international travel, all from the comfort of their own living room.
“What we do is basically a walking tour that you normally would take in a city that you are visiting,” explains the Bogotá based tour guide. And the technical side? He explains the tour is broadcast live through a cell phone whilst a stabiliser transmits it around the globe to the public.
Some may see virtual tourism as nothing more than a short-lived gimmick. But given that the World Travel & Tourism Council estimates that one in 10 people are employed in the tourism industry, it offers a significant number of people a chance to work online. Even while travel remains heavily limited in many countries.
The World Tourism Organization has stated that only 1% of countries are open for international travel without any form of Covid restrictions. In the face of worldwide reductions in tourism levels, it has called for “collaboration”, digital solutions and clear rules’, even making the hashtag #restarttourism popular.
Clearly, the role of digital tourism has never been as important as it is now.
Virtual tourism has its benefits
Some may see virtual tourism as restrictive. But Sergio insists there are many benefits, such as being able to reach many more people at once. “If in real life I was walking with 10, 15 or 20 people maximum, in the virtual tours this number is multiplied by as many as you like,” he tells me. Some of his tours have even had audiences of up to 200 spectators.
Beyond convenience, virtual tours can only be a good thing for the planet. Tourism has long been recognised as a leading contributor to climate change and pollution levels. The General Secretary of the WTO has called the Covid crisis an “opportunity that, by reconstructing it, the [tourism] sector will be better, more sustainable, inclusive and resilient”.
So, could virtuality be the future of tourism?
Sergio isn’t sure. “It’s still a new business,” he said. “It’s not certain how sustainable it will be in the future and what market it will continue to have,” he adds. It seems the arrival of both the vaccines and the summer have led to a “quite important- drop in the number of spectators” he explains. “So, the fewer people at home, the fewer people watching tours.”
Local knowledge is key
If you’re unsure about taking a virtual tour, Sergio insists it’s more engaging than some may think. “You can expect it to be really fun; in truth it’s better than it sounds and I personally go on other people’s virtual tours,” he assures me. In part, this is because nearly all tour guides are locals. This allows the audience to tour the area alongside the in-depth knowledge of a resident, or as Sergio puts it “with a visa.”
Sergio’s virtual tours go far beyond just highlighting the cultural and historical highlights of Bogotá. Whilst you can tour the city’s flea markets or its historic centre, some of Sergio’s tours also have political and social themes.
Sergio tells me “there are also tours which talk a little about the current situation, for example with all these protests and marches that took place in Colombia in the last two months.” He carried out tours during the protests which originally stemmed from the government’s tax reform and spiralled into almost two months of demonstrations.
Whether it’s learning about new political issues or just supporting local tourism, perhaps taking a virtual tour can do even more than just quench the thirst for travel during Covid times.
If you’d like to find Sergio online and check out some of his tours, you can find him on his instagram or on heygo to book a tour.
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