Top Countries Most Interested with Virtual Tours
Many countries around the world have implemented measures to slow down the spread of the coronavirus since early 2020 from a few weeks to months. Since then, virtual tours have started gaining more traction. They are also considered as alternatives to actual travel. This is particularly true for those who long for traveling but have restrictions, such as stay home notice, local lockdowns, or medical problems.
Figure 1(left) Interest on Tourism vs. Virtual Tour and Figure 2(right) Interest on Virtual Tour Topic worldwide from Jan 2020 to Aug 2021 in Google Trends.
Virtual tours have brought a lot of excitement especially during lockdowns and travel restrictions. When we compared the interest over time on Tourism topic with Virtual tour topic worldwide in Google Trends (Figure 1), we observed that around March to April 2020, while the value of interest over time on Tourism topic had taken a sharp dive in April 2020, on the contrary, the value of interest on Virtual Tour topic had increased from 1 to 5, which was the highest ever observed. Note that the numbers in Google Trends represent search interest relative to the highest value on the chart for the given region and time, in which a value of 100 is the peak popularity of the topic or term. A score of 0 could also means that there was not enough data, though.
Is virtual tour here to stay, even after the pandemic subsides? In Google Trends between January 2020 to August 2021 (see Figure 2), we observed that the popularity of virtual tour had a sharp increase at the end of March, and it leveled off at around 20 since July 2020. Interestingly, the level of popularity in Aug 2021 is about 6 points higher than in Jan 2020. This shows a consistent increase in the interest of virtual tours worldwide even after ‘lockdown’ or travel restrictions have loosened up in some parts of the world.
Figure 3. Interest on Virtual Tour Topic by Region from Jan 2020 – Aug 2021 in Google Trends
Virtual tours are very popular in some countries, but they may be not so widely adopted in some other parts of the worlds. The top countries in which virtual tours were most popular since Jan 2020 were France, Canada, Italy, United States, and Singapore (see Figure 3). Let’s explore the various kinds of virtual tours offered in these countries.
In France, one of the top queries related to virtual tour was ‘visite musée virtuelle’ (translated literally to English as ‘virtual museum visit’). A top search in Google for this query resulted in a link to the Virtual Tours of Louvre Museum, the world’s second-largest art museum and a historic monument, located in Paris. The official museum virtual tour shows 360-degree panoramas with interactive elements, such as directions, maps, photos, and descriptions of artwork in the museum galleries. These virtual tours can be enjoyed from computers or smart phones. If we use VR headsets to view them, the experience will be even more immersive. In addition, Louvre Museum also offered a mobile app ‘Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass’ which gives 8-minute immersive VR experience telling us the real story behind the painting of Mona Lisa.
In Canada, a wide variety of virtual tours are accessible for free. We can virtually visit zoos, aquariums, museums, parks and even icebergs in Canada via 360-degree photos and videos, live cams, guided maps, online exhibits, and also YouTube videos. If you like skiing, check out the guided virtual reality experience of heli-skiing by CMH Heli-Skiing. Vancouver Aquarium provides live cams in to take a peek at baby otter, jellyfish, and penguins. Hancock Wildlife offers live cams that stream bald eagle nests to promote the conservation of wildlife and its habitats. Many Canada’s national parks are also equipped with hidden webcams to spot bison in Grassland National Park or polar bears in Northern Manitoba.
Virtual tours of Italy cover virtual visit to popular destinations such as Florence, Rome, and Venice, Italian museums, online cooking classes, and online guided webinars. Google Arts & Culture is a great online platform to explore Italy virtually. The Grand Tour of Italy, that has been available online via this platform since 2017, covers the journey from Venice to Palermo to rediscover the Italian culture from the past to modern days. In this online platform, you can find Venice museums, such as a’ Rezzonico – Museum of the 18th Century, Museo Correr, and the legendary Biennale, and also learn about local crafts and traditions at a Venetian squero. Besides this online platform, Uffizi Gallery, that exhibits the best artworks of the Italian renaissance, offers high-tech virtual experience with compilations of 360-photos and high-definition images of individual artworks with audio guide. GetYourGuide.com also offers virtual experiences including virtual tour of Ancient Rome, Vatican & Sistine Chapel with Expert Guide, and also Live Pasta cooking class with Italian professional chef, that cost about 15 to 19 EUR per person.
Virtual tours in United States offers virtual travel experience from history and culture to outdoor adventure and wildlife. We can virtually visit New York’s art galleries that feature the work of famous artists, such as Josh Kline, Bridget Donahue, Lisa Alvarado, and many more. We can enjoy street murals in St. Petersburgh, Florida and also learn about story of the murals. We can go for online field trips in Grand Canyon, virtually hike the Phantom Ranch Tour or take a virtual raft trip through Colorado River.
Virtual tours in Singapore include 360-degree virtual tours of Singapore’s museums, videos of Singapore gardens and parks, and also live virtual tours. Some of the most interesting live virtual tours are organized by Monster Day Tours. They don’t only show places and live streamed walkabouts, but also provide fun and engaging activities, such as cooking demonstration, bingo, team building games, and prizes.
Regardless the location of destinations, while browsing the Internet, we found amazing platforms that offer free virtual tour experiences across multiple regions or countries. In heygo.com, we can browse collections of live virtual tours guided by professional local guides in Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, South America and Oceania and join any of them whenever the tours are live. In Explore.org’s live cam site, we can enjoy watching bears, eagles, orcas, or other wildlife in Africa, Canada or Alaska from the comfort of your home.
During Covid-19 travel restrictions, many people have turned to variety of virtual tours, including 360-degree panorama tours, live cams, online galleries, travel videos, and guided live virtual tours. The technologies supporting the virtual experience are not novel, but indeed, there had been a huge spike of adoptions during the pandemic. Virtual tours had replaced actual travel for a while during lockdowns and travel restrictions and keep supporting tourism during the recovery of travels. When more and more people get vaccinated and we enter a post-pandemic period, we would be able to travel anywhere as before. In post-pandemic period, many virtual tour services may stop operating. This is because virtual tour experience, even with the latest virtual reality technology, still have limitations and may not be able to replace the actual travel experience completely. Some virtual tours may remain, though. Free virtual tours could become a tool for marketing destinations. Paid virtual tours can still be attractive for destinations that are not easily accessible or for people with special needs or medical conditions.