Is virtual tourism a ‘new normal’?

Friday May 15 2020

 Virtual tour relies on powerful video a

Virtual tour relies on powerful video and photography that create an experience for the visitor. PHOTO BY EDGAR R BATTE 

By Edgar R Batte

I recently received a message from Uganda Wildlife Education Conservation (UWEC) inviting me for a virtual tour.

It was astounding and confusing at the same. Well, I had never heard of it and it was all new to me.

Anyway, it is now a new world order and everyone, including businesses are adapting to new realities.

Actually, you might have already heard the word “new normal” being thrown around casually. Virtual tours could be the new normal that Covid-19 has delivered into our sitting rooms and offices.

Virtual tourism offers you user-navigation powers to see what you desire in a 360°experience. It allows you to actualise a tour to the remotest part of the host facility.

All this relies on the power of photography, videography and ICT, which encompasses a variety of digital tools to visualise experiences that are miles away.

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In other words, you don’t have to drive through obscure bumps and potholes to connect to the remotest part of a national park somewhere in the country or even in Kampala.

According to a report published by Research and Market, Virtual Reality (VR), in the next five years, will impact travel and tourism in a big way.

Ralph Hollister, who authored the report explains thus: “VR offers the potential to create substitute experiences that may be useful for heritage and natural preservation.”

His argument is supported by a Forbes report that indicates that in 2018, a Japan-based First Airlines began flying its customers to popular destinations in a mock aircraft.

This could have been the first experience of virtual tourism, which has now been normalised by Covid-19.

Herman Olimi, Derrick Muwonge and Emmanuel Nsaba like travel. In fact, to them, it is now a hobby.

And as fate would dictate, travel and tourism has almost become impossible, which is why the trio has built on different previous experiences to start virtual travel and tour through Eonkom Digital.

According to Olimi, the Eonkom Digital marketing director, the virtual tour and travel tool is being piloted and at least 10 per cent of the hospitality industry, has sampled it.

The trio, through Eonkom Digital, offer sound and videos experiences in over a thousand site in and beyond Kampala. For a long time, there had not been a more interactive way to share their experiences but now the “new normal” offers them an opportunity to show everyone how Uganda is an amazing country.

“In this era of lockdowns, virtual tours are the future of marketing physical products,” says Olimi noting they give clients visualised and evidence based satisfaction.

Eonkom Digital, Olimi says, was born out of an inquisitive client who had contacted the trio to develop VR on images of products in supermarkets. It was an exciting idea but they chose to play around with the same using a different product area with the hope of aggregating different products in the hospitality sector .

At the time, Olimi says, Grande Global Hotel in Makerere, Kampala had just opened and it was there that they researched and developed a website - virtualtours.ug – that visualises and documents places, features and experiences.

The company uses hi-tech cameras and pano-heads, to offer 360 panoramic tours, which makes a case for the new world order.
“Ugandans and their businesses must evolve to keep up with global trends through finding local solutions that match global trends,” he says.

Packaging a virtual tour

To put together a virtual tour, Olimi says, it involves planning and identifying features or sites that offer amazing experiences.
It also involves shooting that is usually done some days or a day to the tour.

The core team comprises of three people depending on the size of the project.

However, they have had a share of trouble. At some point, some members of the team were arrested while shooting in Nakasero.
“We were also arrested again at J&M Hotel in Bwebajja,” Olimi says but notes this has made them learn that they sometimes need to seek permission before shooting.

However, he notes: “Our hustle is starting to pay off. But our desire is to have a platform that has virtual tours for all hospitality facilities and tourist features in Uganda and later on East Africa,” Olimi says.

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