Is virtual tourism the future for destination travel?

Thursday, June 4th, 2020 00:00 | By
Tourism CS Najib Balala during the launch of the Virtual Tourism project at Nairobi National Park on Tuesday. Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES

Harriet James  @harriet86jim

Investors in the tourism industry are scrambling to come up with online tours on their properties and filming experiences to connect with their audiences w locked out by travel restrictions locally and abroad. 

Leading the online scrum is the national tourism marketing agency, Kenya Tourism Board (KTB),  several camps, cultural organisations and animal sanctuaries.

“Prior crisis in the tourism sector were all events and incidents. For example, the September 11th, 2001 (US),  West Gate and other terror attacks and national elections were all events,” said Damian Cook,  CEO,  e-Tourism Frontier. 

“However, Covid-19 is a phenomenon and things like that change life for everyone.

The Internet can also be said to be a phenomenon as it has greatly affected our lives,” Cook, said during a recent webinar dubbed Covid19: Preparing for Tourism Recovery. 

With travellers now confined in their homes, there is demand for indoor activities that will keep them busy. 

Research by Google Keyword Planner data indicates that recent searches for the term “virtual tour” increased seven times—from 1,300 in February to almost 10,000 in March, a period when countries were experiencing the lock down.

 Staying at home 

According to Google Kenya, there has been an increase in inspirational queries on You tube recently and the percentage is increasing due to the lock down.

Safaricom too has noted a threefold increase in the amount of bandwidth being consumed while their customers are at home. 

These virtual experiences being offered range from game drives on Instagram to live, short videos of destinations on You tube.

A cameraman in action at the Maasai Mara. Photo/PD/COURTESY BBC 

Others are videos on preparing dishes at home, engaging their followers with photos on social media. 

There are also museums and galleries offering virtual tours either for free or by charging a small fee.

“From a wellness perspective, psychologists say many people are seeking an escape.

A lot of people are really stressed about staying at home not sure of what the future holds and this could be an opportunity for the tourism sector to take Kenyans to the places they desire to go to virtually,” said Charles Murito, Google director sub-Saharan Africa 

Additionally, emerging technologies such as Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR) are changing the tourism landscape.

By using AR, a hotel or camp can create an all-around room tour with lodging details, showing room rates and menu prices in the whole experience that can entice a potential traveller to exploring the property.

 Another way through which AR can be used is in discovering tourist destinations and excursions where one can get pleasure from Three Dimension (3D) models of places and get fun tour guides. 

Recently, Google and the National Museums of Kenya celebrated the stories of the people of Kenya through the digitisation of Kenya’s cultural collections under the Google Arts and Culture project titled: Utamaduni Wetu: Meet the People of Kenya.

The project presents cultural collections under the museums that tell the stories of 28 communities to preserve and promote culture. 

Kenya is the first country where the institution has done a holistic project with the first project being at Murumbi Art Collection in 2017. “The question to ask is how we can engage the domestic traveller in this period because people don’t like vacuums,” said Dr Betty Radier, CEO KTB.  

The board has commissioned live streaming projects to showcase various destinations.

“People want to know that you were with them along the period and one of our strategies is to captivate the audience who are waiting for destinations,” she added. 

Being that wildlife and beach are Kenya’s staple products, KTB has also ensured that their social media pages captivate tomorrow’s domestic traveller. 

They are also seeking to add other experiences such as culture and art as an additional to showcase the diversity in the Kenyan experience. 

“When you want to create competitiveness, you want people to relook, and take a double take on what they thought they knew.

This is where opportunities and other offerings come into play,” said Radier.  

Internet searches

Game Watchers Safaris and Porini camps got a chance to showcase their game drive experience at the Magical Kenya live post. 

Showcasing their wildlife virtually, has enabled them reach their audience to assist them support their, “adopt an acre initiative” where their conservancy works with communities to safe guard wildlife. 

“It’s all about being visible now. Remember most people are at home and safari enthusiasts have watched a lot of the old clips, so getting to experience a live Safari is quite good.

Plus it’s raw, has the excitement you  don’t have in other videos,” says Jeremiah Chege, Product and Marketing manager at Game Watchers Safaris and Porini camps.  

Participants in the Webinar noted that the millennial generation, which is the new travel age bracket, is well skilled in terms of technology usage and enjoys being tech savvy.

By going virtual, travel firms will provide the necessary information and choices of where to travel next. 

“Before making decision to travel, most travellers will have looked at the reviews of the destination and Goggled to find out if it fits with what they are looking for.

TripAdvisor and Google reviews have become a must for any potential traveller,” said John Musau, tourism expert and GM, Tamarind Tree Hotel. 

 “In some cases, the traveller even asks for a virtual tour of the destination including accommodation rooms, conference facilities, bar restaurants and surrounding attractions.

It’s therefore good to take care of all potential and current travellers to get repeat business,”  Musau added. 

On Tuesday, Tourism CS Najib Balala, in partnership with Magical Kenya, launched the  virtual safari tour programme at the Nairobi National Park to showcase game safaris in some parks and reserves.

The six-week expedition across the country will be part of the ongoing #MagicAwaits campaign led by KTB aimed at ensuring the world and travellers remain connected to Destination Kenya  during the current Covid-19 lockdown period globally.

“Our international tourism business is completely cut off and we still share destination memories with travellers and that is why we are unveiling a virtual safari to connect visitors with the destination,” Balala said.

More on Lifestyle