Are virtual tours a worthwhile alternative to travelling during the Covid-19 period?

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With travel limited or outright banned during this period, many people have been experiencing cabin fever, even starting to plan for future trips. However, virtual tours have begun to rise in popularity, with companies offering paid interactive tours of places to people.

But, with virtual tours comes limitations, as you would not be as immersed in the culture or experience the countries or places in-person.

We find out if paid virtual tours are worth the money, or if you are better off taking a free virtual one through various other mediums.

How do virtual tours work?

Using web video conferencing technologies, virtual tours simulates the experience of taking a trip through a place of interest, with a tour guide explaining an area of interest using pictures and videos.

For this article, I took the Tour Guy's Louvre Virtual Tour with an Expert Local Guide, which is a short tour through some of the Louvre's installations.

Based on my experience, virtual tours were surprisingly very interactive and personal, and like real-life tours, the quality of the experience depends greatly on who your guide is.

Guides who just narrate a script don't value-add much, but really passionate ones who can tell compelling stories and are knowledgeable enough to answer your questions can really make a simple session a memorable and immersive one.

If you're interested, you can do a simple Google search for a country or place of interest, and adding the keyword "virtual tour".

Virtual tours using augmented reality

Websites such as Google Maps Treks, Google Arts and Culture or Youvisits 360 tours, have virtual tours that allow you to explore places of interest such as the British Museum and Macchu Picchu by yourself using Augmented Reality (AR).

AR tours are more independent and immersive, since you can control your movements through a first-person street view, and see places of interest from a 360° perspective.

Also, on Google Maps Treks, you can see pieces of info labelled while on the trek, which serves to add some information and variety on an otherwise solitary walk.

But because such informative elements are few and far between, you might have to supplement your AR walk with a web search online to gain a better understanding of the place.

With current technology, navigating around the world can also be somewhat unwieldy at times.

Free virtual tours in videos

On YouTube and other sites, you can search for tours around popular places, such as this 4K walking tour through the Louvre or this virtual video tour offered by the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

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These virtual tours would take you through attractions and places of interest in recorded footage, with or without commentary.

Some of these videos are even shot as 360° virtual videos, which mean that you can decide where to look as the video takes you through the places. 360° videos give you more control compared to a normal video, but less autonomy compared to an augmented reality walkthrough.

In all, video tours can both be very informative, but that depends on the quality of the commentary and video.

Quality experiences that are worthwhile in their own right

Virtual tours, whether paid or free, are clearly not able to replace experience of an actual tour overseas. However, given travel restrictions, these tours can be a great family activity or a good way to spend a few hours on your own.

What you learnt about the history and culture of a place can be used as a basis for discussion with your loved ones, or to plan a future in-person trip.

Like in real-life, paying for the services of a guide is helpful for getting answers to burning questions you have or unique insights that only locals have.

With Covid-19 and social distancing measures, we're only seeing the start of mainstream acceptance of virtual tours. As more people become open to this activity, we can look forward to the quality and variety of virtual tour content to increase.

For the latest updates on the coronavirus, visit here.

This article was first published in Dollars and Sense