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VR Tourism Goes Up, Up, and Away 2021

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Key Takeaways

If you can't hop on a plane due to the coronavirus pandemic, you might want to consider virtual reality travel.If you feel like doing some climbing, Everest VR will let you traverse the Khumbu Icefalls and scale the Lhotse Face.National Geographic Explore VR lets you visit Antarctica, navigate icebergs in a kayak, climb a massive ice shelf, and survive a raging snowstorm. Oscar Wong / Getty Images

People are turning to virtual reality to get their travel thrills as opportunities to board planes shrink. 

VR lets you voyage anywhere from Mount Everest to Machu Picchu from the comfort of your couch. All you need is a headset, an internet connection, and the right VR software.

"With an ongoing global pandemic preventing most people from traveling, we're all increasingly seeking new ways to visit our favorite places and see the sights without leaving home," Meaghan Fitzgerald, head of experiences product marketing at Facebook Reality Labs, which makes the Oculus headsets, said in an email interview. 

Climb Even If You're Afraid of Heights

If you feel like doing some climbing, Everest VR lets you traverse the Khumbu Icefall, scale the Lhotse Face overnight at Camp 4, ascend the perilous Hillary Step, and finally conquer the summit of Everest.

National Geographic Explore VR lets you visit Antarctica, navigate icebergs in a kayak, climb a massive ice shelf, and survive a raging snowstorm. The app also allows you to tour Machu Picchu and see digital reconstructions of the ancient Inca citadel. 

If you are in the mood for history, check out Olympia in VR, which has a self-guided tour of ancient Olympia, Greece. You can explore recreated versions of the Olympic Stadium, Temple of Zeus and Temple of Hera, and many other monuments and buildings, too.

"For some, it might be exploring sandy beaches and shallow waters in the Caribbean."

Once you've paid for your virtual reality hardware, the price of VR travel is light, pointed out Lisa Cain, a tourism professor at the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Florida International University, in an email interview.

"If one is interested in traveling to Tibet and exploring the Himalayas, it is feasible to do so from one's living room without the cost of air and ground transportation, lodging, guides, and fees, not to mention altitude adjustment," she said. 

The decreasing cost of high-quality VR gear is one reason people are turning to this kind of travel, Bryan Carter, director of the Center for Digital Humanities at the University of Arizona, said in an email interview. "The cost of cameras is coming down, and resolution is going up," he added.

For the struggling tourism industry, VR can be a lifeline. Georgette Blau in 1999 founded On Location Tours, which gives tours of iconic spots featured in TV shows and movies in New York City and Boston. Tourism in the cities has suffered due to the pandemic, and Blau boosted production on her company's VR tours. On Location recently created a Superhero tour for New York, showing shoot locations for films including The Avengers, Spider-Man, Batman, and Superman.

"For a small amount of money, people around the world can safely and virtually travel the world from the comfort of their own home, and really 'feel' like they are there," Blau said in an email interview. "For us, it also removes the majority of our fixed costs, such as our bus and tour guide."

Tips on How to Travel Wisely 

Experts have tips for those who choose to travel virtually. Make sure to select a VR tourism service that uses 360-degree VR, suggested travel expert Yulia Safutdinova in an email interview. "You want to see real locations captured in real-time rather than a mockup or a simulation," she said.

Manuel Breva Colmeiro / Getty Images

Safutdinova also suggested using dedicated VR headsets, which provide a better experience than virtual reality features on your phone or tablet. 

Choosing the right destination is critical, too, Cain said. Do your research on your places of interest. Look at reviews of virtual tours to determine if that tour guide or tour style is right for you, she added. 

"For some, it might be exploring sandy beaches and shallow waters in the Caribbean," Cain said. "For others, It might be walking the halls of the Louvre in Paris to view the Mona Lisa and other masterpieces."