“Virtual ecotourism” means people do not have to fly to see endangered wildlife
Many of us would love to go to exotic destinations and see wildlife. It will never be quite as good a glimpse as the remarkable programmes on wildlife on TV, where film makers can take months to get the shots. Ecotourism is beneficial to some areas, from money it brings in to the local economy, and demonstrating to local people that there is more commercial value in keeping wildlife alive than in killing it. However, it has its downsides, and even when ecotourism done sensitively it has drawbacks. These include the high carbon footprint, from flights; wildlife disturbance, potential for disease introduction, and development of roads and infrastructure which have a detrimental effect on wildlife. Also many people are unable to afford the high price of ecotourism, or are too old, young, or otherwise unable, or unwilling, to travel. Virtual Ecotourism (vEcotourism) can contribute to overcoming these problems by providing a way to experience a conservation site virtually, using many on-line technologies combined with a live, on-location tour guide. The Virtual Ecotourism website offers a number of “tours” which are 360 degree panoramas, from where the actual tourists go, showing what they see. This is a positive development meaning people do not have to fly across the world, just to see rare populations of animals.
This is a new, and genuinely significant development in tourism without CO2 emissions
The Virtual Ecotourism project uses interactive on-line tours to connect the general public with conservation projects and local communities in ecologically and culturally sensitive areas worldwide. We aim to nurture curiosity about the natural world, promote effective world citizenship, contribute to alternative livelihoods for communities living in areas of high conservation importance, and combat environmental degradation.
vEcotourism was invented in 2004 by Mark Laxer, the director and founder of the Virtual Ecotourism project. Currently, vEcotours are primarily being produced in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Indonesia to highlight the plight of the great apes in those countries, but as we grow we intend to tackle the challenge of conservation world wide.
Connecting and empowering conservation projects by integrating state-of-the-art immersive digital technologies with traditional storytelling.
What is a Virtual Ecotour?
In its current, “beta” state, a vEcotour is a series of immersive 360-degree photographs (similar to Google’s Street View) combined with ambient background audio, still images, and embedded videos. An expert guide provides introductory voiceovers for each panorama and comments on the hotspots.
The next step for vEcotourism is to incorporate our immersive panoramas into an interface that will allow tourists to interact, pose questions, and be guided through the experience by a conservation professional in real-time.
Why is Virtual Ecotourism Needed?
Ecotourism has been widely heralded as a means to provide an income in a way that encourages protection of biodiversity. However, even Ecotourism done sensitively has disadvantages including: high carbon footprint, wildlife disturbance, potential for disease introduction, and development of roads and infrastructure which have a detrimental effect on wildlife. Furthermore, many people are unable to afford the high price of ecotourism, or are too old, young, or otherwise unable, or unwilling, to travel. vEcotourism overcomes these challenges by providing a way to experience a conservation site virtually, using many exciting on-line technologies combined with a live, on-location tour guide.
Global overview of the tours available so far.
From this global perspective you may explore vEcotours from four continents (and counting!). Every vEcotour features an immersive full-sphere panorama and a voiced introduction. In addition, some of the tours also feature close-up photos, embedded videos and audio, and interviews to enrich the experience.
The page with 3 short virtual ecotours seeing Sumatran orangutans
The page with 4 short virtual ecotours to the Virunga Mountains & Mountain Gorillas
The page with one virtual ecotour of the Salt-Mining Elephants of Mount Elgon in Kenya
The page with one virtual ecotours of the Queen Elizabeth National Park, Craters tour in Uganda