With the onset of COVID-19 in January 2020, vacations have become a thing of the past. However, as the pandemic continues to surge, you should consider the combination of virtual reality and ecotourism so you can keep experiencing the world.
Ecotourism follows three main principles: conservation, community, and interpretation. It differs from traditional tourism because it invites tourists to view wildlife and threatened natural environments while keeping them at a distance. Money spent by the tourists then filters back into the community, fostering economic growth and creating jobs.
For example, South Africa generates $8.4 billion and 5,000 jobs from ecotourism alone. South Africa has limited land that can be developed and effectively utilized. This creates a scarcity of employment opportunities. So, ecotourism is key to supporting local economies.
Ecotourists can also benefit, as they are immersed in the surrounding culture. Ecotourism can help you gain a new environmental awareness that you may have been searching for!
Due to the pandemic, areas that relied on ecotourism are facing the consequences. Lauren Gilhooly in the magazine Sapiens highlights a correspondence with Howard Stanton, who runs a Malaysian ecotourism destination: “(We have) had to put all staff on unpaid leave for the foreseeable future. … We have taken the decision to reduce all costs until a better time to open becomes available.”
Luckily, platforms such as vEco Labs are developing apps and sites that create an in-depth tourist experience consisting of 360-degree photographs with background audio, still images, and embedded videos. Narration from guides is included to enhance the effect.
A tour by vEco Labs can be found here.
Virtual ecotourism can remind you of your love for travel. It can also evoke your support for local economies through donations. As virtual ecotourism platforms grow, hopefully, direct donations to the featured areas will become more available. Virtual ecotourism that donates its profits would be a great alternative for communities that rely on ecotourism as income, especially during the pandemic.
As the pandemic subsides in the future and normal travel resumes, you may think that virtual ecotourism cannot compare to the real experience of seeing wild animals and bonding with family during a vacation.
However, with advances in technology occurring every day, it is exciting to think about the potential developments for virtual ecotourism. vEco Labs plans to add more interactive features into their interface so that users can ask questions and be guided in real-time throughout a destination. This replicates the social aspect of traditional tourism!
But virtual ecotourism extends beyond pandemic relief. While ecotourism attempts to focus on conservation, its growth in popularity shows that negative environmental impacts are being exacerbated. In a study on the Kodagu District in India, the ecotourism in the area is leading to a decrease in biodiversity, water quality, and air quality, among many other harmful effects.
Daniel Blumstein, chair of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA, warns that ecotourism’s effects on wildlife can be compared to that of animal domestication. Wildlife becomes less aware of their surroundings, making them more susceptible to predators.
Thailand’s Maya Bay also experiences harm from ecotourism. Maya Bay has reported that 77% of the island's coral is in danger due to the large number of visitors and boats that it must accommodate.
A shift to virtual ecotourism can maintain all of the positive intentions of ecotourism such as proper conservation and economic support of local communities while diminishing the harmful effects that come with it.
You can directly help the environment while satisfying your yearn for travel during the pandemic with virtual ecotourism. Consider taking a virtual tour and bask in your heightened social and environmental consciousness!