Amidst a global lockdown, many stuck in their homes found themselves reminiscing past trips, wishing they could travel again. With international travel on hold for the foreseeable future, virtual tours started gaining traction as many turned to the internet to teleport them around the world.
From museums to tourist attractions to even the Seven Wonders of the World, it seems like everyone is jumping on the trend. With that being said, what exactly are virtual tours and how do they work?
“If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine how much a virtual tour is worth.”
Exploring the world from your living room
In a period where travel restrictions have become the new norm, those itching to satisfy their need for travel have turned to virtual tours. Instead of leaving your house to visit the museum or go on a hike, sightseeing is made available to anyone with access to the internet.
A virtual 360ᐤ tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in the United States
These online tours come in 2 formats: a pre-recorded, or a live-stream where participants can actively engage in the tour. Pre-recorded tours are usually the preferred choice for museums or tourist attractions such as heritage sites. This allows participants to explore any time they like, without having to stick to a schedule.
A “live” virtual tour of one-north in Singapore organised by Monster Day Tours.
Live-streams on the other hand, are usually conducted by an actual guide on-location, meaning participants are required to follow a scheduled time set aside by the organiser. “Live” virtual tours are also generally more engaging, as it allows participants to actively interact with the guide and ask questions, which they are unable to do with pre-recorded tours.
Why Virtual Tours Are The Next Big Thing
A virtual 360ᐤ tour of Yosemite National Park in the United States
Virtual tours have been around for years, and it’s not something consumers are unfamiliar with. In fact, it’s thought that Queen Elizabeth II was the first participant in the world’s first virtual tour in 1994, a 3D recreation of the Dudley Castle in West Midlands.
With so many virtual tours already available, is it worth coming up with more tours? If so, how can you make your virtual tour stand out from what’s already available online?
Most virtual tours are in the 360ᐤ interactive format, which works for businesses hoping to reach out to a larger group of people. Having a pre-recorded tour makes it available 24/7, meaning that people around the globe can access your content whenever they’d like. This is a viable option for places of interest such as museums, art galleries, or historical buildings, where having a live-video showing participants around isn’t particularly necessary. These are usually free tours, and are organised by the institutions themselves.
On the other hand, live virtual tours usually reach out to a smaller group of participants as they follow a fixed schedule. This means that these tours usually target the local market, as having international participants would be hard due to time differences. Depending on the organiser, these could be paid or free tours, with participants of paid tours required to register prior to the event. These tours usually include a guide on-site who’s able to provide participants with more information throughout the tour. Live virtual tours are usually organised by a third-party such as tour agencies or external vendors and showcase a wider area, such as neighbourhoods or popular tourist attractions.
Another reason why virtual tours are innovative is that it builds inclusive tourism, giving those who may not have the opportunity to travel a chance to explore the world. Not everyone has the opportunity to fly halfway across the world, be it for financial, medical or other reasons. Virtual tours provide an opportunity for travel to be inclusive, as certain destinations can be hard to navigate for those who are physically challenged. These tours provide an opportunity for everyone to explore places outside of their country, even if they’re unable to fly overseas for various reasons.
The downside of Virtual Tours
Virtual tours may be a way for businesses to stay afloat during this period of travel restrictions, especially those in the travel and tourism industry. That being said, is it viable to invest time and effort into creating a virtual tour for your company?
Pic credit: Unsplash
It’s no surprise that it takes a lot of time and resources to create a virtual tour, be it in the 360ᐤ format or a live virtual tour, with more work required for the latter. A pre-recorded tour would require special equipment to shoot the tour in 360ᐤ, with a special software or user interface needed to allow users to experience their tour on the own. This could potentially be a waste of resources, especially if these exhibitions require frequent updating, or are temporary and constantly change.
Meanwhile, live tours require not only special technology required for live-streaming, but more manpower is needed as well. A guide is usually on the ground live-streaming to participants, with a host or admin acting as a bridge between the guide and participants. External factors such as Internet connection can also make or break a tour, and such risks may not be financially worth it, especially for small businesses. Tours located outdoors also rely largely on good weather, and given that live-streaming requires equipment that is not waterproof, companies might be forced to cancel the tour, resulting in losses.
Virtual tours may also come across as boring to participants of these tours are usually passive engagement. 360ᐤ tours may be slightly more engaging, as users will have to navigate the tour on their own, but for live virtual tours, participants are usually just watching the screen.
How to make virtual tours work for you
Pic credit: Unsplash
While virtual tours may appear to be the simple solution to the crunch the travel industry is facing, there is more than meets the eye. Here are some things you need to take into consideration before deciding virtual tours are the right path for your business.
1. Is this tour an evergreen product?
If you’re investing the time and effort into creating a virtual tour, you want to make sure that the product is long-lasting, not something created just to jump on the hype. Having a virtual tour that you can keep on your list of products will help make it stand out.
2. If you’re planning on doing a live virtual tour, do you have sufficient manpower?
Executing a virtual tour that includes a live-stream can require a lot of manpower, depending on the set-up. Besides having a tour on the ground and a tech team to help with the live-streaming, having a host will help act as a bridge with participants. In situations where there are large groups of participants, having admins on standby to help troubleshoot may be required.
3. How can you make the tour interactive?
It’s important to keep participants engaged throughout the tour, especially so for live virtual tours. Not engaging with the audience makes the experience tolerable, but necessarily enjoyable. It’s important to introduce an interactive element as part of the tour, be it in the form of games or quizzes. This not only incentivizes the audience to pay attention and actively particpate, but increases the chances of them returning for more tours if the tour was enjoyable.
“A virtual tour is a reminder that we can still have a shared experience with people around the world, even while we're confined to home.”
Redefining Travel through Virtual Tours
International travel looks set to stay closed for the unforeseen future, but thanks to technology, it’s still possible to explore the world. Virtual tours are a way for travel companies to not only stay connected with their customers, but to stay afloat during this trying period.,
That being said, developing a virtual tour requires a lot of research and time, and it may not be an ideal solution for your company. Here are some 360ᐤ free virtual tours to check out before deciding if you should embark on a journey to create your own.
Wonders of the World:
Museums & Exhibitions: