Tourism goes virtual

Tour operators and guides are working on virtual tourism

“Hello, how are you?” the tour guide at the clock tower greets in Japanese before he begins his tour for the day. He introduces himself, the site and shopping tour in Thimphu.

After showing around the interiors of Thimphu, he crosses the street and walks for around 10 minutes to handicrafts shops while describing various arts and crafts. He also travels to the Thimphu Dzong and shows his client the external architecture.

“In reality, it is impossible to visit all the places in an hour trip,” said a guide. However, in a virtual tour the guide uses videos, images and slides. The tour guide communicates with the participants via a video conference app.

Amid the COVID, some tour operators and guides are working on virtual tours especially as a teaser for travelers who are still saving money for their trip; it serves as an informative platform for people to plan travel.

“This can be a different idea for tourism sector, which includes virtual conversations and allows participants to visit the site as we normally do with tourists, using the internet and live videos,” said Sonam Dorji, a tour operator.

He added they have been preparing their virtual tours since mid-March as they are now unable to conduct physical tours.

 “People are highly interested in such tours,” he said, adding that a number of participants came from different cities including Japan, USA, France and regional tourists.

Another tour guide Bishwa said in average, the organizer can attract between five to 10 tourists online, because he gets mails from tourists who give pictures of sites asking for explanations.

“For international virtual tours, we can have more than 100 people online,” Bishwa said. Following the positive response, some tour operators and guides plansto make virtual tours a permanent program even when the pandemic recedes as such an activity is not restricted by weather or distance.

He added they are not trying to replace the real experience of traveling but want to enhance the experience. “It can also be a marketing tool for our physical tours,” he said.

Slow internet connection, minimum interaction between the guide and participants and gadgets are among the challenges faced by the tour operator and guide, when conducting virtual tours.

“Understanding the plot while explaining the information to the participants is another challenge,” said Karma Wangdi, a tour operator.  “We have to do well in gesturing and showing our expressions, intonations and articulations. We also have to communicate well verbally and non-verbally,” he said, adding that he planned to hold virtual tours on other sites in Bhutan.

He added leading virtual tours requires thorough preparation and practice in order to make them engaging.

“We also need to prepare backups,” he said, “If the videos, slides and picture can run smoothly and our voice can be clearly heard, it’s going to be a good package.”

A tour operator, Sonam Dorji said not only can the virtual tours can be an alternative tourism activity during the pandemic, but they can also be held when the outbreak subsides.

“Payments will be done online but it will be lesser then actual tours,” he added.

Further, tour operators and guides want to suggest the idea and put a proposal to the Tourism Council of Bhutan in coming months. “We are trying our level best to engage in an alternative tourism activity during this pandemic.”

Kinley Yonten from Thimphu