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What Is Cloud Tourism – and Is It Here To Stay?

Covid-19 has changed the way we view travel, as more and more of us opt for digital experiences
Covid-19 has changed the way we view travel, as more and more of us opt for digital experiences | © Dan Brownsword / Getty Images
“New normal”, “unprecedented times”, “social distancing” – these are phrases that have become all too familiar in recent months during the coronavirus pandemic. And in travel, “virtual tourism”, or “cloud tourism” as it’s known in China, is taking off. Culture Trip looks at the long-term effects on the industry.

Without much in the way of external stimulation during lockdown, in the UK, United States and Canada, the search volume for “virtual tourism” has spiked dramatically. Meanwhile China, which is going through a gradual loosening of its restrictions, has seen a continual interest in virtually exploring the world through what is known there as “cloud tourism”.

This kind of “at-home” tourism includes a whole host of experiences. Tuning into livestreams of entire trips – some as long as two weeks – has proven popular, as have city, museum and art exhibition tours. The term “virtual art museum tours” has seen exponential growth, mostly across the UK and US, with 14,800 searches in April up from zero in March.

Seeing the world through a screen has exploded under lockdown | © 10'000 Hours / Getty Images

A survey conducted by Culture Trip found that enhancing future in-person experiences was a reason for tuning into these virtual museum tours. It also found that Google Street View, which is particularly popular in China, has been utilised to inspire future travel to cities.

In the UK, where tourism spending is forecast to drop by about 54 percent this year – that’s a prospective £15.1bn loss to the economy – the British Tourist Authority have been busy encouraging potential visitors to see destinations through another lens.

“Virtual tourism and the innovative use of technology have been important in keeping our tourism offer in the international spotlight while global travel is at a standstill due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Tracey Edginton, of VisitBritain/VisitEngland, says. Virtual festivals, interactive whisky tastings and food tours have been among the organised events. “Our top priority is to ensure that tourism rebounds, to become once again one of the most successful sectors of the UK economy,” she says. “We are working across the industry and with the UK Government to ensure that the sector can recover as quickly as possible once restrictions are lifted.”

Search trends show that cultural events have drawn virtual crowds from around the globe. “Online concert” has cropped up as a new term, jumping to 33,100 in April compared to zero in March. Artists including Diplo and Dillon Francis have been among those to perform from the comfort of home.

Expanding skillsets has also been a trend in online behaviours. “Online cooking classes” saw a 300 percent search increase from March to April, with 14,800 people searching for new dishes to learn virtually, up from 3,600.

Online cooking classes are increasingly popular | © Marko Geber / Getty Images

Meanwhile, cloud tourism has become the driving force behind pre-sales. In China, the Suzhou Museum saw 5.8m viewers tune in for a single livestream, which encouraged a boost in pre-sales and museum souvenirs. And following a live tour of the Atlantis Sanya Hotel, ¥10 million (£1.15m) was generated in bookings in one hour.