Is virtual travel the eco-alternative to over tourism?
Everyone loves getting onto a plane and travelling to some far-off destination. Salivating at the thought of hundreds of likes for unique pictures of these dreamy destinations. Jealous followers, excitement and exploration - garnered from the impressive Machu Picchu or the exotic Galapagos. There was only one conceivable problem before the pandemic and its subsequent hard-lockdowns and travel restrictions. It is so glaringly obvious in its cliche, your thoughts of unique photo opportunities for far-off destinations are not unique at all.
Overtourism caused by social media platforms is a pandemic in its own right. A formidable example is that of Trolltunga in Norway, a little spit of a cliff. In 2009 it had 500 visitors, only to be followed by 40 000 visitors in 2014. The rise of social media and travel accessibility due to economic growth has given a rise in tourism. 'Instragrammers' flock towns and picturesque locations for the perfect snap. Some even extend their stays to become guides themselves, profiting off the industry in as many ways as possible. One in five of people working in Tourism in Iceland are in fact foreign and not local.
The environmental impact on these locations not made for great human traffic is unfathomable. In a world, where our climate is on a delicate balance, we need to seek alternatives to travel. Virtual Reality (VR) is a possible solution.
During the Covid-19 lockdowns that took the world by storm, VR app Ascape, has seen app downloads grow 60 percent from December (traditionally the busiest month) and doubled since January. People sought that escape, now achievable from their homes. The experience obviously does not compare, as VR does not entice all the other senses. It can however take away the strain caused by over tourism. It can keep environmentally delicate locations safe and untouched. It can be a solution.
VR was used as a precursor as to where to travel to, instead of being the destination itself. We need to change our mindset. Yes it is in no way the same as the real thing, but it saves the real thing. It means we can still see it now, instead of regretting it later.
Grab a glass of wine or a warm cup of coffee, and experience these exotic locations from the comfort of your living room. It is the most sustainable thing to do.
The Instagram followers can wait.