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Virtual Travel: The Millennial Tool to Satiate Your Wanderlust

If you could travel the world, without a price tag, amid a global pandemic and witness the most awe-inspiring sights – who wouldn’t be sold to this idea? Thanks to an increased acceptance and usage of virtual reality (VR) and the millennial obsession with vacations, traveling virtually has become the coolest quarantine pastime

From the myriad things you can choose to do online, the newest is to explore the world of virtual travelling. A mushrooming niche in the travel and tourism industry, from China to Peru, you can experience the world's most impressive landmarks, minus the crowds, jetlag and tiresome travel time, thanks to livestreams, virtual tours, and 360-degree videos.

What is Virtual Travel?

Kandima Maldives virtual travel platform

A virtual tour is primarily a simulation of an existing location, usually composed of a sequence of videos or still images that offers a 360 degree experience through a headset (like Oculus Rift) or an app (like Google Cardboard). It may also use other multimedia elements such as sound effects, music, narration, and text to deliver a gratifying and enjoyable experience. 

A case in point? Kandima, a luxury resort in the Maldives, launched an immersive, state-of-the-art virtual platform called  D.I.V.E (Digitally Immersive Virtual Experiences). You can sit back and relax in the comfort of your home while the app takes you on a tour of their snow white beaches and clear blue waters. You can visit the deck of their decadent water villas or to just soak in the vibe of the tropical paradise. A comprehensive, multidimensional sound system supports the 360 degree experience offered by this easy to use application. 

Explore France, another pioneer in the virtual travel sector, has organised a one-of-a-kind  virtual tour to make the most of your sofa-surfing time and take you on a visual journey through some of the most impressive castles with a café in hand. The virtual tour makes its way through the outskirts of Paris to Castle Country Loire Valley for a fascinating encounter with French royalty. It is a tour of the Château De Vaux-Le-Vicomte, Château De Fontainebleau, the temporary residence for the Pope, to Château de Chambord: A Hunting Lodge for the Kings. The mammoth landscape and majestic castles look equally imposing through the VR ecosystem as one may find it in person. You can take a walk through Van Gogh’s Starry Night or drop in at MuCEM for a dose of Europe and Mediterranean culture as well as stunning architecture and views. 

Visit Victoria Virtual Tour

A similar platform has been created by the travel and events company – Visit Victoria, to promote virtual experiences offered by Melbourne and Victoria’s top attractions like art galleries, museums, wildlife sanctuaries, heritage sites and scenic locations. One can watch Port Phillip Bay’s fishes, seals and dolphins while they go about their daily business via an exciting underwater live-feed.  

Virtual Education for Art & Culture

Not just travel businesses, but the worlds of fashion and art have made use of this technology as well. No Space, Just A Place is a unique multi-layered project to support the rich cultural landscape and the contemporary art scene in Seoul. Curated by Myriam Ben Salah and propelled by Alessandro Michele’s meditations on society, the exhibition is virtually accessible to the public through a 360° clickable video available on the exhibit’s website. With this enterprise, GUCCI has seamlessly joined the VR bandwagon ensuring its viewership and millennial cliques are not disappointed. 

Gucci No Space Just a Place exhibition

Travel experts, Taruna Seth and Bhawna Rao, who are also founders of Encompass Experiences, advocate for this industry-wide transition: “While we all hope that global travel makes a comeback in its most responsible avatar, the reality is that we will see some lean years as flying becomes more expensive. Till such a time, that the environment becomes conducive for the numbers to climb back to pre-covid levels – virtual travel will remain popular. We will see that many armchair travellers – those who are too old to travel, have medical issues or simply can't travel due to work or budget constraints may adopt to virtual travel as the next best thing. It will also emerge as a precursor for many travellers who may want to experience a bit of the destination in real time before making the actual journey.” 

Millennials form a large portion of the target audience for this phenomenon thanks to the technical proficiency the experience warrants. History buffs have an even stronger incentive. Thanks to a Google Arts and Cultures initiative, with the support of South Africa, they now have a chance to chronicle the footsteps of two iconic heroes, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi across history through a virtual tour and narration of key sights across the nation.  

“Millenials are also using these tools to help educate their children about world history, cultures, etc. Virtual experiences & travel are also a great means to acquire new skills – learn a foreign language, virtual cooking lessons etc. Given how uncertain the situation is, the industry is pulling together in creative ways to protect their stakeholders and keep the customers engaged. Virtual travel can possibly help bridge the gap and generate opportunities for people in the travel sector whose livelihood were dependent on tourism. It’s also giving the younger generations of travel entrepreneurs a chance to pivot their business models & think out of the box,” said Ms. Seth and Ms. Rao.

Nelson Mandela Capture Site South Africa on Google Arts & Culture

As a seasoned traveller myself, while this concept may never replace traditional travel for me, it still offers intriguing possibilities to pass my time during the lockdown. It may very well replace the Sunday afternoons spent at the mall or prove to be a great weekend plan with my family. Instead of a coffee run at the end of a work week, I could fancy a virtual run across the wildlife sanctuaries of South Africa or the museums of Moscow. If the technology becomes sophisticated enough, the more environmentally conscious section of our society, those who aim to reduce their carbon footprints, might prefer this form of vacation too.

One may call this virtual escapism pre-meditated, inauthentic or a poor substitute to what an adventure truly does to a soul. Even then, increased travel restrictions and rising financial constraints warrant this kind of an immersive experience where one can derive the virtual pleasures and 360-degree sights of some of the world’s most famous locations, from Amsterdam to Rio de Janeiro, at the swipe of a mouse. While VR experiences tend to only be a few minutes long—hardly the equivalent of a two-week vacation in Spain, it may just be the best option to dispel the monotony of everyday life and fulfill the deeper needs that compel us to travel.