Back in March this year when I first began my travel blog, I wrote about my then new experience of travelling virtually – see ‘Travelling Virtually in Covid Times’ – March 14.
Since then, I’ve returned to my current favourite overseas travel destination, Japan, numerous times – virtually, while sitting at my home computer! It’s very different to watching a travel video or film. The interaction enables you to participate, rather than simply viewing. For me, it’s a whole new travel experience. It doesn’t replace the real thing, but in these travel restricted Covid times, virtual travel feeds my travelling spirit well.
My virtual travel has included another visit last week to my favourite small city Takayama in the Hida region of Gifu Prefecture on Honshu. I’ve visited Takayama for real several times prior to the Covid. So I wasn’t sure what a virtual experience could add. To my surprise, the online tour via Zoom introduced me to areas of the city I haven’t seen before, my knowledge of Takayama was enhanced, and I was able to chat with a local who even provided me with a YouTube link to enjoy free some of the performances at this year’s famous Hida Takayama Jazz festival held at the city’s Hida folk village. I’ve visited the village for real on a sunny Spring day and in autumn with snow on the ground, so it was great to enjoy the jazz performances ‘virtually’ there.
Last weekend, on another online tour, I was ‘virtually’ in Yokohama where I enjoyed an interactive cooking lesson learning to make Japanese hamburger. I was able to ask the cook questions through an interpreter who was linked in from Kobe! Inevitably we chatted about Covid and the current situation in our countries with the pandemic. Our experiences emphasised the global effect of this terrible virus – we are all suffering in one way or another.
In another virtual tour in September I was shown through a family home in Saga Prefecture on Kyushu and even met the family cat! I learnt about the family, including their late father who was a master Japanese archer and a very fine hobby model ship builder – his beautiful models still preserved by the family in glass cases – and his traditional archery equipment still cherished. It was my second virtual visit to this home where a few weeks ago I did an online cooking lesson with the Mum and daughter – a Japanese beef bowl.
So – what is the value of these virtual tours. For me – a traveller thirsting to travel internationally again – they provide an ongoing link with my country of interest, they add to my travel knowledge, and they act as a research tool for my next ‘real’ journey when Covid restrictions ease!
The virtual experiences also help tour operators, museums, galleries and guides around the world who have lost their international customers and are struggling to survive.
They assist in maintaining their links with potential customers for the future, increase their understanding of the tourism market, and they provide some employment for those in the tourism industry. I think they also offer hope for both travellers and the travel industry.
Currently, I’m booked in for a 75 minute tour in October with a professional tour guide in Kyoto, costing $A22. More costly than the tours I’ve done so far, but my online interactive experiences so far tell me it will still be good value and great fun.
What has really surprised me is how few people have been on some of the online virtual tours with me, even though they have been very reasonably priced – some as cheap as $6.50 Australian for an hour online. On last week’s $A10 Takayama tour, I was the only overseas person, though everyone spoke excellent english and the tour was conducted in English via zoom. The cooking lesson also only cost $10 Australian.
Is it because many people are still unfamiliar with video teleconferencing programmes such as Zoom that are utilised for online virtual tours? Or are they afraid of making online payments for tours overseas in these security conscious times? Or is there enough promotion of these tours to reach the tourist market?
My experience has been a good one and easy to organise. I am reasonably savvy with my computer, but let’s face it, I’m a senior retired traveller who regularly defers to my sons for computer assistance!
I linked into the companies running virtual reality tours through a promotion JAPANAROO run by the Japanese Government’s tourist department’s Sydney office, and through the Japan Railways (JR) site.
On the tours, virtual walks and cooking experiences that I’ve undertaken, participants have able to see and chat with each other and with the leader of the tour. I have enjoyed great travel conversations, and gained a lot of knowledge that will enhance my next ’real’ visit to Japan.
There also are online tours now on offer from major museums and galleries around the world where you can virtually walk through for free – no queues, no payments! They include the British Museum, the Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Australia’s National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, and the Tate in London.
In Japan, check the recommendations from Japan Railways.
There are so many online virtual opportunities currently on offer around the world at no cost or a range of costs. It’s a matter of searching and finding ones that suit you.
Singapore, a favourite with many Australians, has embraced this new exciting world of virtual travel and offers a wealth of online tours including ‘team building’ tours, classes, art workshops and other online events.
My suggestion for people is to check Tourism departments, major airlines of the countries, reputable tour companies and railway/bus organisations in the countries they are interested in to see if they are recommending tours. Check reputable companies or even shire/prefectures to see if they are offering tours. Input ‘virtual tours’ on your computer search for the country you are interested in, cross reference with review checks and check the companies involved. Trip advisor is also rating many of the new online tours, so that’s an excellent review reference.
A friend this week referred me to an online British Christmas at Blenheim Palace this November. So checking with friends to see if they’ve been successfully virtual travelling is a good idea.
THE FUTURE FOR ONLINE VIRTUAL TOURS
What will the future of online virtual travel be when pandemic travel restrictions end? Will it disappear when we can all get on planes and travel internationally again? Actually, it’s likely they will continue because the pandemic is not the only obstacle to travel.
A positive outcome of the Covid pandemic has been to open up and accelerate opportunities for alternative travel utilising modern technologies such as ipads, go pros, etc.
One of the companies I’ve been ’travelling’ with, Japonisme, is exploring the idea of future online tours in Japan for people whose health, age, or other circumstances prevent them from travelling for real.
There’s also a young researcher in Japan, exploring the use of virtual reality experiences by running a virtual reality experiment at an aged care centre where people can specify exactly where they’d like to visit. One elderly lady wanted to go back to the home town she grew up in – something that was no longer possible for her to physically achieve. So she gave him a list of places in her old home town that she particularly wanted to see. He visited the town to film, and later – sitting in her wheelchair at the aged care centre – she was able to walk through her home town, using a virtual reality headset.
I’ve ‘driven’ on a racetrack using such a headset, and found virtual reality actually felt remarkably real and quite thrilling! So I can well imagine what a wonderful experience it was for the elderly lady, restricted to her nursing home.
So, the future looks bright and exciting for virtual travel. Hopefully, I’ve got many more years of travelling in person. But when I can’t do that anymore, it’s reassuring that international travel experiences still will be possible for me.
Actually, this old bushwalker/trekker no longer has the knees or strength to climb Mount Fuji! Now there’s a thought! Maybe I can still trek to the summit virtually! 😎
A couple of links below related to my virtual tours – introduced to me via the JAPANAROO programme promoted by the Japanese Government. I have done several now with Japonisme and also with the Nexage Homestay company.