The 2020-2021 pandemic has stopping the world from travelling, could virtual reality, besides being a welcome escape, ever be a helping-hand to our mental health?
The Covid-19 pandemic has been affecting most industries around the world but the one which has been almost killed is tourism!
Gone are the days where, approaching school holidays, long seasonal holidays such as Hari Raya, Chinese New Year and Deepavali or even few consecutives days off from work we were all excited in preparing a big or small luggage and getting ready to leave for a well-deserved and highly enjoyable holiday.
In the current situation, even a car trip from Ampang to Kota Damansara might be giving stress and concern of road-blocks and police check-points set up to curb the high infection rate that our dearest Malaysia is currently having! Let’s not talk about inter-state or flight travels.
We keep working from home, concerned about our mental sanity, or better say insanity, and trying to find ways to cope with the super long insulation and the justifiably social distancing “torture” imposed upon the most social of all creatures, human beings.
Let’s have a look together at how we might be still able to enjoy a temporary virtual travelling, planning of forthcoming local or oversea trips and, at the same time, fight the brain-erosive “Netflix Addiction”. I don’t know you but, I really tak-boleh tahan (cannot take any longer) the night Netflix or else movies habit which has been leaving with no more interesting or new ones to watch and has dragged the little social interaction within the family away!
What I’m talking about here could be a good, healthy and somehow educative alternative to the above, something which will allow everyone to fire back the “would-be adventurers” spirit. With a world that has been turning at hyper-speed towards digital transformation adoption and virtual reality, there are plenty of easy to be accessed online VR (virtual reality) destinations able to satisfy the adventurers, relaxed family holiday goers and more.
Here a few very interesting and creative examples Machu Picchu, Galápagos Islands and Faroe Islands. Do not worries about the goggle for VR viewing, nowadays you can find it almost everywhere, from online to digital gadgets shops it’s going to be a really small investment.
Two are the questions, though, that might be coming to our mind. The first is related to future trend of the tourism industry while the second, more selfishly important, is related to our mental health.
Virtual Tourist Forever?
Tourist operators, everywhere around the world, have been devastated by the pandemic with plenty of iconic and not hotels that have been ceasing operations last and the current year.
Of course they are looking forward to a soon to happen, apparently, re-opening of borders. However, few indispensable steps are still needed; mass vaccinations cannot happen in travellers originating countries but should be even more massive within the destination ones.
We all know the low rates of vaccination in Malaysia and neighbouring countries and this represents a high risk for international travellers. For this reason the much spoken about International Digital Pass, similar to what Europe has done with its Digital Green Pass, should be enforced everywhere in the world before we can define “safe” to reopen the respective borders.
And still we might be feeling uncomfortable, and this brings in the possibility that we will all need to wait much longer than expected to freely travel around the world. In other words, yes virtual tourism innovative tools are here to remain and most probably will keep growing and being developed following new trends, available mass technology and public’s mood. In other words we will keep on having the possibility to pre-view and plan our next real adventurous or less trip by using VR and similar to check out before hand interesting locations along the selected itinerary.
Tourist Operators’ Gimmick of the Past, Now Becoming More Relevant
While making some research on this topic I’ve found this very interesting article from which I report here just a short part.
For years, airlines, travel agencies, and tourism boards have used VR technology to market destinations to potential customers. Now, “the impact of COVID-19 may allow [virtual reality] to shake off its image of being a gimmick,” says Ralph Hollister, a tourism analyst at Global Data and author of a report on the VR travel industry.
Virtual travel experiences are seeing a surge in popularity. Valeriy Kondruk, CEO of VR travel company Ascape, has seen app downloads grow 60 percent from December (traditionally the busiest month) and double since January.
The company has fielded increasing interest from educators and those working in nursing homes, Kondruk says, even as the airlines and travel agencies that usually license Ascape’s VR content have paused their accounts.
Still, there’s a big gap between using virtual reality to “try before you buy” and treating virtual reality like the destination itself. To start with, the technology isn’t ready yet. 360-degree virtual reality videos are usually experienced through a headset (like Oculus Rift) or an app (like Google Cardboard).
The headsets are expensive, heavy, can cause nausea, and aren’t comfortable to wear for more than 30 minutes. The apps have none of these problems, but simply aren’t as impressive, says Hollister.
Limited sensations are another hurdle. The videos focus on sounds and sights but can’t do much with smell, touch, or taste, and VR experiences tend to only be a few minutes long—hardly the equivalent of a two-week vacation in Spain. Of course, some researchers are working on ever-more-immersive VR features, including haptic suits, says Samuel Greengard, author of Virtual Reality. But while creating a full-body suit with enhanced sensory experiences might make a video of the Amazon or Antarctica more realistic, it still doesn’t fulfill the deeper needs that compel us to travel.
Virtual Reality & Virtual Tourism, just an Entertaining Feature or More Than That
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned the insanity of our current lifestyle! Actually, we should not look into virtual tourism as just another digital transformation application but more than that.
We have fully understood, during the past 16 months, that our complete freedom of movement and commute, taken for granted since ever, has vanished! A microscopic invisible virus is the culprit of our loss and the only thing we can do, to fight back, is to keep remaining safe at home!
The price paid by our mind and body is undoubtedly high. Every day more and more cases of anxiety and extreme loneliness are brought up in the news, the sadness of too many “white flags” exposed by the less lucky ones surrendering to a bitter destiny are shown in all media.
Could it be possible to use this virtual tourism experience-full “trip” to evade the loneliness and boredom of a too much “closed-within-your-house-walls” lifestyle? How could we use this digitalization of traveling to increase our awareness of what the world has to offer in terms of beautiful destinations?
Let me be very clear here, too often we dream of an impossible immersive trip to “lost destinations” as those that I’ve highlighted at the beginning of this article just to find out that, in most cases, are out of our reach or too expensive!
Well no one can stop us from Virtually visiting these places and you can have some ideas of what I’m talking about as going to India for real or visiting the Yellowstone Park in US or the Yosemite Park also in US and finally, but here you may need to sit in a small room with your aircon on (max fan lower temperature) just to feel more the environment, a virtual view of the aurora borealis and a reindeer sledding run at the north pole.
This could be only the beginning of a new way of spending some time visiting places where, we all know, we’ll never be! Take it from this point of view and the feeling will be great. At least we will always be able, when someone will mention one of the destinations that we have been virtually visiting, to say: “Oh yeah, I know what you’re talking about I’ve seen it virtually and is absolutely beautiful, awesome, outstanding or else!”
Best of all, this virtual tourism is available absolutely for free, why not trying and break the Netflix addiction while learning something new, experiencing something different and taking away the stress that isolation is causing?
Let me know what you think, and if you have tried, I’d love to hear more. You can always send a virtual postcard in IG tagging SCP Properties!