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What is virtual tourism and when should you make use of it?

The French philosopher Olivier Clerc once described the “boiled frog-syndrome”. If you put a frog into a pot of cold water and slowly warm it up, the frog will lie completely still until it gets cooked. The frog is passive because it doesn’t notice the gradual change of temperature. But if you drop the frog in boiling water, it will immediately try to jump out. It survives because it instinctively responds to a shocking change. This metaphor fits well with many tourism companies that for years have stayed more or less passive while the world around them has changed. The virus poured boiling water into the pot of an entire industry. Suddenly many have to fight with everything they have for further existence.

They need to jump out of the boiling pot.

It has been interesting to see the steps that different players in the industry have made over the last month. Digital recreation of physical experiences stands out to me. Up until mid March, virtual tourism experiences were something only a handful of innovative travel companies used in their marketing. Interest has now exploded among both tour operators and destinations. And this is despite the fact that the technology has been available for a long time. Since Google Earth the world has never been the same, and the same can be said about the entry of YouTube – also owned by Google. Google is a virtual tourism locomotive.

In this article I will explain the meaning of virtual experiences within travel and tourism.

  1. What are virtual experiences and virtual tourism
  2. Types of virtual tourism and virtual experiences
  3. Pros and cons of virtual tourism
  4. A quick summary
  5. How to get started
  6. Examples of virtual tourism
Instead of being boiled, the frog can become a digital storyteller
Instead of being boiled, the frog can become a digital storyteller

1 What are virtual experiences and virtual tourism?

The term virtual experiences describes “physical” or “real” experiences that are recreated or mediated through the use of technology. We’re not talking about a technological experience, but a technological version of something that you can experience in real life. One creates the illusion of being present by using a digital medium. We can probably distinguish between virtual experiences and virtual reality (virtual reality/VR) where the experience lies in the technology itself. Virtual tourism or virtual tourism experiences is the use of technology to artificially create or enhance an experience for tourists.

Since we’re talking about experiences, I want to clarify one thing. For the sake of simplicity, I write “physical experiences”, and what I mean by that is that you are physically present. But an experience is somewhat abstract, an individual process, and cannot by nature be physical as a product. You experience something. Within experiential theories, one often operates with certain characteristics to distinguish experiences from physical products:

An experience is:

  • Intangible – that means you can’t touch, hold or store an experience. So you can’t try the experience before you buy.
  • Heterogeneous – this means that each and every experience is unique and difficult to standardize. This means that each individual’s perception of quality is influenced by external factors such as weather, mood, service and other tourists.
  • Perishable – it means the experience arises and disappears. It cannot be reused or stored. If you have vacancies, they cannot be used later.
  • Inseparable – because the consumption of the experience happens at the same moment as the production. This makes it difficult to control the quality.

It is also common to imagine tourist experiences in two halfs. The first half focuses on the degree of customer participation, while the other half addresses the physical presence. How memorable the experience is, is largely about the physical and emotional participation and presence of the travelers. This is important to consider, because virtual recreation will be challenging. It provides guidance on what to preserve from the original experience. After all, online tourist experiences make it possible to experience an attraction or destination without physically traveling there. So we can say that video also is a form of virtual experience. You can both see and hear from the experience without being there.

Nevertheless, a well-functioning virtual experience will require a certain kind of interaction where you can influence how you experience the surroundings. You don’t usually get that with video. For example, you can put on your headset and 3D glasses and move around the room, or click around and change your perspective. You can also go even further by using props. This might include wearing gloves that record your movements and allow you to “touch” or choose things. A kind of interaction. It’s also possible to recreate some physical aspects. An example is new cinemas where you sit on a roller coaster with movable chairs. Or you are on a safari and are being showered with water, or odors flow into the room. Online experiences will have the ability to scale in larger volumes, you can also eliminate external factors that affect the quality. There are some opportunities here. But you also risk losing authenticity.

Virtual experiences, of course, comprise much more than the tourism industry. Real estate agents, for instance, have come a long way. You can easily buy an apartment without having seen it, many new buildings manage to recreate the feeling of walking through a home satisfactorily. Many use it for simulations, such as offshore or in industry. But schools also use it. I remember that the navigation classes in Kristiansund high school used it as early as 25 years ago. Virtual reality recreation has become a major part of everyday life and society. In the video game industry it have come further and probably affects most of what happens. Flight simulators and role playing games are good examples of that.

In the travel industry, virtual tourism and virtual reality (VR) have mostly been used as marketing tools. Destinations, attractions and operators have been using VR to attract the interest of travelers for quite some time, and we have seen a growth in the use of technology as an addition to physical experiences. Most museums have limited floor and wall space and can combine physical exhibits with virtual art or stored objects. They can also enhance exhibitions with presentations, stories and more.

2 Types of virtual tourism and virtual experiences

Like everything else in life, the virtual comes in many different shapes and sizes. We can divide this into a few main categories:

You can visit real places without leaving home

Google Earth has paved the way for other types of virtual tourism. Google Earth lets you explore areas around the world at the touch of a button. Whether you want to try to find your own house or visit Central Park, almost every part of the world has been documented by Google’s camera. Many companies, destinations and attractions also employ technology to let you visit a specific area.

You can explore areas and plan trips

Archaeologists have found buried villages by studying satellite imagery from Google Earth. I have used similar images to find potential surf spots along the coast.

One can visit areas that are inaccessible

Not all areas of the world can be visited, at least not visited by everyone. There are many reasons for this. The areas can be remote, they can be closed for tourists, or it can be dangerous to go there. Not everyone can climb Mount Everest or dive great deep seas. With virtual tourism you can go anywhere! This is enough excitement for many of us. For some it can ease the pain of not going there, or make you even more excited to go. Imagine how this technology could make everyday life a little more enjoyable in nursing homes.

You can try before you buy

Clothing stores have fitting rooms, electronics stores have their walls covered with TV-screens. Customers want to know what they are buying, especially when the price is high. It gives potential customers the opportunity to explore before they decide whether to purchase. One of the special features of experiences is that nothing is tangible. You can’t try it in advance, so in a way you can say that technology gives more freedom of action. Travelers often rely on reviews and information from other travelers and writers. Done correctly you can take back some of the control over what kind of information being spread about your destination. Many have achieved great success with this form of marketing, and we will be seeing much more of it in the future. Let travelers take a tour of your hotel or bike path!

You can go back in time

You do not need to limit the technology to recreate the present. One of the major technological benefits of virtual tourism is the ability to recreate destinations or attractions of the past. Using current images along with historical images and data algorithms, developers can design software that allows tourists to experience ancient times. Some programs allow you to transport yourself to any time or place you want. It’s pretty greasy. It is not just tourism players that develop this kind of software. Archaeologists, universities, schools and other intermediaries have a lot of gossip here. We’ve got the Viking Planet here in Norway, and I think we’ll see a lot more like it in the future.

You can visit places that doesn’t exist

The most extreme type of virtual tourism is one that hasn’t taken off around here yet, is the opportunity to visit non-existent areas. Second Life is the most well-known platform offering this type of virtual tourism. It’s an online world where you can create a virtual representation of yourself, an avatar, and connect with different places and people. This has already been big in Asia for a while.

You can enhance the on-site experience.

This is a bit on the side of virtual tourism, but still close enough, so I’ll include it. Imagine walking around the terrain and then you can see a howler or a troll. You can see the battle of Gettysburg or see a viking ship enter the fjord. AR technology enables things like this. Norwegian companies such as Bædi and Børdi or Hidden have exciting concepts going on and I hope they find a way to succeed in the competition. The potential is huge. It’s the same principles that applies as with Pokemon Go. You can also add information to the street you walk on. It’s sort of a virtual tour guide providing extra information. There are countless variants of this already out there. It’s also possible for local shops to market with it.

Courses and webinars

This is also a bit outside of what is meant by virtual tourism, but I still include it because it has great utility for tourism players. Arranging courses, especially nature-based, has previously required participants to be physically present. With the help of technology it has been possible to move these courses online. This means that you have the chance to reach wider, and you have more flexibility while still having the opportunity to interact. At the same time, there are many things you still cannot recreate, for example the right paddle technique and how to physically climb up a kayak after a roll over. The courses will have to possess a slightly different character. But it’s a great opportunity to reach wider, and you’ll increase the chances of them visiting you later. A great and relevant example is the Norwegian guiding company Uteguiden who recently launched the Utewebinar-platform, performing avalanche courses and other outdoor-courses online.

3 Advantages and Disadvantages of Virtual Tourism

Here are some benefits of virtual tourism

  • Since virtual tourism is often used as a marketing tool, it has the potential to stimulate actual tourism. As before mentioned, it gives the customers the opportunity to try before they buy, and if you do a good job here, the customer might want the real deal. And it opens inaccessible areas for people. Even though I want to climb Everest, I don’t see it happening for a while.
  • This also applies to many other areas. We can use virtual aids to prepare the customer ahead of the journey. Visualization of a track is very common among athletes. Imagine how you ahead of the trip can guide your customer through the route to Kilimanjaro or Machu Picchu. Simulation and training.
  • The tourist saves money by going virtual. Most of it is still free, but it’s starting to get good enough to pay for. It is a different product, but still an experience that gives the customer value.
  • By taking a virtual trip, you obviously have more freedom and flexibility in terms of both time and place. You can sit at home and watch the Northern Lights dance across the sky or move among Mayan ruins in Mexico. You hardly need to take time off from work to do it.
  • One of the good things about virtual tourism is that it has very little impact on the environment. Travel life accounts for huge emissions and this is of course minimized when the tourist doesn’t actually travel. Virtual tourism means less CO2 emissions from transportation, less garbage, less flora and fauna wear and less disruption to natural ecology and wildlife.
  • It also means that there are fewer negative social consequences from tourism.
  • You can promote the destination better if local players are on board. It gives the customer a better overview before they leave and you may get more enthusiastic customers.
  • You can add value to customers on the trip.
  • This can contribute to a better customer experience and not least contribute more money locally.

Here are some disadvantages of virtual tourism

  • No matter how you look at it, the virtual is just a recreation of reality. You see this reality/world through the “eyes” of the creator and might miss relevant information.
  • The creator often will have an agenda.
  • Virtual tourism does not provide the economic benefits that traditional tourism does. Traditional tourism provides good revenue for the host destination, and these revenues are one of the main reasons that the areas even facilitate tourism.
  • Virtual tourism is not available to everyone. Not everyone has access to the digital surfaces required to implement it. And many parts of the world do not have good enough internet to provide a good experience. This is not limited to developing countries either, people in most countries will have poor internet.
  • One of the more obvious disadvantages of virtual tourism is that it involves limited social interaction. Much of the experience of traveling is the people you meet. You will miss the energy and many of the qualities that make the experience unique.

So a virtual experience will never be the same. It’s not wrong, just something else.

4 A quick summary of virtual experiences. Should you use it?

Virtual tourism has grown and developed in recent years as an industry parallel to technological advances and the use of smart tourism. However, the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent social isolation have given it explosive growth. There is a wide variety of virtual opportunities for those interested, from visiting the deepest seas to climbing the world’s highest mountains.

With this comes some advantages and some disadvantages that one must always bear in mind. All in all, this is an area that has experienced unexpected and unique growth, and more research is needed in this area in order to understand the opportunities even better. Can we improve our marketing in a way that makes the tourists experiences match their expectations? Can we create a more sustainable tourism life? It gives opportunities for more people to explore the world. Some of these will be inspired to more traveling while some will probably be satisfied from the online experience.

One thing is sure. Virtual experiences have come to stay, and you decide whether you want to join in and take advantage of the opportunities that exist.

What is your main motivation for creating virtual experiences? Think carefully about it..

  • Are you looking for short-term profits to solve challenges during the crisis? It’s not that simple. It takes time to make money. Nothing is impossible, and you will get a marketing effect from it. But I would rethink my approach. Your reason for doing it should be more long-term.
  • Do you want to use virtual experiences for marketing? Then you have some great opportunities. But remember to consider it along with other marketing. If you are an agent and don’t have any regular tours, virtual marketing will be more or less pointless. Use the materials of your partners instead. But if you have a hotel or are promoting a specific trip or destination, then virtual marketing should be a no-brainer. We’re going to see a lot of it in the future. And you have every opportunity to become the best at it.
  • Looking for your own virtual products to sell online? Well, it’s not easy and you need to think like online stores in order to succeed. That being said, everyone can a hang of it if they follow a simple recipe. Always remember your value ladder, because most people within tourism will probably want physical customers at some point, and by gradually building trust, a customer will potentially buy other products from you as well.
Virtuelle reiseopplevelser.jpg

5 How to get started with virtual experiences step by step

There is no definitive answer on how to get started and offer good virtual experiences for tourists, but there are some good ways to create and market them.


What is your purpose with creating virtual experiences? What do you want to achieve? Is it just for marketing? Do you want to sell this as a unique experience? Do you want to get more people on your mailing list? Do you want to earn money online? Think about this carefully, but remember that the road will be created as you walk.


Who is the target audience? Do you want to reach customers that will likely visit you later? Is this an experience that will have its own customers, or new markets? Create customer personas or use the ones you have. PS: see how here


Do you want to make a 360º video or photo? Maybe you want to combine several types of media? What do you want to convey? Is it a trip? Is it what your hotel looks like? Do you have a plan for the story? How are you going to build the story? (Here are 3 steps to a simple marketing story)


This is probably the most difficult to do yourself, but far from impossible. I do not want to go into the technical side of it, because it depends on the equipment and the needs, and there is also a lot of new stuff happening in this area. But I will say that if you want to make 360º video, you’re gonna need the right camera equipment and you’re gonna need software to edit afterwards. You will also need to shoot from multiple angles. If you’re not experienced doing stuff like this, I can put you in touch with the right people. The result will be much better by using professionals. But it’s also fun to experiment yourself. It might not end up perfect, but it doesn’t need to end up looking amateurish either. A good start is to play around with Google Street view.

Other things to think about are dramaturgy, what and how to convey the message, and of course how to build an experience. I am not your mother, and would rather not ask you to clean. But if you are going to film rooms and interiors, think about what it looks like and remove what is disturbing and getting in the way. The tripod should also have fixed heights so it stays the same from room to room. You can also use drones as long as you use the wise and try to avoid the clichés. It will give the customer a different perspective.

Our talented partner and photographer Morten has recently become a skilled FPV drone pilot. This field is exciting. With FPV you take the best of the racing drone industry, where you have 100% control over maneuvering, while at the same time adding the characteristics of a slightly slower cinematic drone that focuses on content creation. For example, you can showcase hotels and landscapes in a whole new way. An interesting variation is to follow a person who enters the hotel before flying out and showing the surroundings. Here is an example:


Virtual experiences won’t market themself. What channels do you want to use? Is it natural to spread it in social media, through destination companies and marketplaces? Where are your physical trips? How is your website? Have you organized well in order to get the trips out? Do you want to use a custom platform for these trips? There are many good solutions for this. How do you tell the story through marketing? Here are some basic tips. The purpose of virtual experiences will for many be just marketing, but you have to work hard to promote the marketing.


No one product is perfect, and all products can be better. Be sure to get feedback and adjust periodically. The visual and the virtual experience is one thing, but you also have to adapt the entire customer journey from marketing to the actual experience. If the goal is to get customers to physically visit you afterwards, you need to make up for it. Imagine the souvenir/gift shop you have to go through on your way out of the zoo. Give the customer a clear call-to-action. Customize it. Especially if you “just” want to show off how the rooms in your hotel are.

Because you want them to book, right?


Get help →

6 Good examples of virtual experiences

Below we have gathered several actors who are good at virtual tourism so you can get inspired and see how it can be done.

Here’s the list

1 Dive on Great Barrier Reef. Google made it possible. Press this link >>

2 Climb Mount Everest. Press this link >>

3 Visit a Hawaiian Volcano. Press this link >>

4 Go to Luther space with NASAs Trappist travel bureau. Press this link >>

5 Safari in Africa. Press this link >>

6 Rainforest. Press this link >>

7 Fly a balloon. Press this link >>

8 Yosemite National Park. Press this link >>

9 Grand Canyon. Press this link >>

10 Feel like a backpacker with Random Street View. Press this link >>

11 Northern Lights in Abisko, Finland. Press this link >>

12 Macchu Picchu. Press this link >>

13 Parisian catacombs. Press this link >>

14 Fly over Paris Press this link >>

15 Colosseum in Rome Press this link >>

16 Statue of Liberty. Press this link >>

17 Amazing Patagonia. Press this link >>

18 The Chinese Wall. Press this link >>

19 7 wonders. Press this link >>

20 Tokyo in 3 minutes. Press this link >>

21 Giants Causeway in Ireland. Press this link >>

22 Flåmsbanen railway in Norway Press this link >>

23 The UNESCO-listed Berninabahn – St Moritz – Tirano. Press this link >>

24 5 Rollercoasters. Press this link >>

25 Street art tours. Press this link >>

26 Ibiza party Press this link >>

27 The Holy Land, Jerusalem. Press this link >>

28 The Vatican state. Press this link >>

29 Buckingham Palace. Press this link >>

30 British Museum Press this link >>

31 Louvre. Press this link >>

32 Uffizi in Florence Press this link >>

33 Van Gogh Museum Press this link >>

34 Guggenheim in New York. Press this link >>

35 J. Paul Getty Museum in LA. Press this link >>

36 Anne Franks house in Amsterdam. Press this link >>

37 Tulips in Netherlands, Keukenhof Gardens. Press this link >>

38 Virtual visiting winter experiences Press this link >>Please help me with virtual experiences→

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