Covid-19 has completely decimated the tourism industry in many countries.  Attractions have been effectively closed, or reduced to bare minimum capacity for a full year.  Conservative estimates put the loss at $1 trillion, and 100 million jobs worldwide.

With so many museums and art galleries entirely shut down suddenly last March, many destinations scrambled to provide a more prominent presence online.  Virtual 360 pictures were haphazardly thrown up, as a way for those desperate enough to escape for a few moments.  The Louvre, the pyramids at Giza, and the Smithsonian were just a few that provided virtual floorplans that you could click through, and pretend (depending on the resolution of your computer monitor) that you really were anywhere but here.

Paid Virtual Tours

A year later, most international borders remain closed due to the virus.  Many would-be travelers are antsy to get back to their overseas destinations, armed with long bucket lists of the things they have not been able to do in over a year.  But as travelers remain cautious, and governments continue to take measures to discourage tourism, a new breed of virtual tours is appearing on the market. 

Paid virtual tours, or Virtual Guided Tours, are being marketed as the “next best thing” to traveling.  Rather than a Google Street View feel, these tours are hosted by licensed guides, who will take you step by step through museums, art galleries, and wonders of the world.  They are meant to be interactive, allowing you to ask questions of your guide, and discuss with those that you are grouped with.

Facebook recently made changes to its platform to allow content creators to host paid online events.  While the majority of that business has gone to cooking classes and tutorials, there has been a boom in virtual tours on the platform as well.

Not all paid virtual tours are made equal.  Some consist of slide shows, while others physically walk you through the space that you are meant to be touring.  And not all of the sellers are upfront about the type of tour they are offering.

These tours are being sold from anywhere between $10-$200 per person, and for the moment at least, there is a strong market for them.  Some are hosted by independent tour operators and others by the attractions themselves.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art has begun offering 60-minute online tours, hosted by a museum guide.  They have marketed the experience to school groups at $300 each, with a maximum of 40 people per group.

Pent Up Demand for Travel

While even well-done virtual tours will not come close to offsetting the impact of Covid, it does allow some escape until the tourism industry recovers.  If nothing else, these tours suggest that there is a large amount of pent-up demand, much to the relief of those who make their living in the tourism industry. 

While the future is still very uncertain, there is hope that we will return to visiting these places – in person – very soon.