Virtual tours offer 'holiday from home' alternatives
Cui Xingyu

China has seen numerous canceled trips and flights as well as significantly reduced outdoor activities in the past month due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, first reported in the city of Wuhan in central China last December and then rapidly spreading to other parts of the world. To reduce the chance of getting infected, more have opted to stay home as much as they can.

Recently, with the epidemic situation in some parts of the country showing signs of improvement, a number of scenic spots in China have resumed operation after having been closed for a month. Together with the reopening, a series of strict measures have been adopted for continued epidemic prevention and control. 

Nevertheless, the epidemic has been a real blow to the tourism industry. Based on data from the past three years, had it not been the epidemic outbreak, the number of domestic travelers during this year's Spring Festival could have reached around 450 million, according to Zeng Fanwen, executive director of the Cultural Industries Institute of Renmin University of China (RUC). However, data from China Tourism Academy (CTA) show that domestic visits in the first quarter of 2020 is estimated to decrease by 56 percent. 

In response to the shrinking tourism market, a number of tourist destinations and online platforms have introduced various travel products to meet people's demands for holidaying from home.

Ctrip, China's leading online travel agency, is offering 7,000 audio guides on its app. The service covers over 3,000 tourist attractions worldwide, ranging from places of interest, museums, natural scenic sites, zoos and botanical gardens to theme parks and popular overseas destinations in more than 48 countries and regions around the globe.

Ctrip provides free audio guides for popular tourist destinations on its app. /CGTN

Ctrip provides free audio guides for popular tourist destinations on its app. /CGTN

When it comes to online travel, Liu Zhaohui, founder and CEO of the Chinese travel media platform Tripvivid, said that real-life travel experience is not easily replaced by other forms, but virtual tours can work as alternatives under such special circumstances.

To help users ease the anxiety that may occur while staying at home, Chinese tech giant Baidu has launched an online service on its map app for people to see the world with their mobile devices without leaving home. The 360 degree panoramic views of over 2,000 scenic areas along with the AI guides have made distinctive tour experiences possible at users' fingertips. It's said to have served over 100 million users during the epidemic.

The panoramic view of famed Chinese scenic spot Jiuzhaigou National Park, located in southwest China's Sichuan Province, on Baidu Map. /CGTN

The panoramic view of famed Chinese scenic spot Jiuzhaigou National Park, located in southwest China's Sichuan Province, on Baidu Map. /CGTN

In addition, travel livestreaming has gained much popularity over the last few days. On February 23, eight domestic museums, including the National Museum of China and the Gansu Provincial Museum, collectively launched an online "spring tour" program via Taobao livestreaming. The combination of live tours, professional guides and lectures on the national treasures attracted more than 10 million netizens that day.

China's online travel agencies, such as Mafengwo, Fliggy and Tuniu, have also joined hands with some travel influencers, scenic sites and other platforms to present the users with the unique travel and leisure experience through live videos and broadcasts. 

Wu Fenglin from CTA said the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic can be an opportunity for China's tourism industry to transform and upgrade. 

"It's essential to combine tourism with leisure. Most people are staying at home so as to curb the spread of the virus, but their demands for leisure always exist and they have more time for it. Tourism corporations can livestream beautiful scenery or offer some classes to enrich people's lives," he said.

A majority of participants from the latest survey conducted by CTA expressed their willingness to take a trip when the epidemic is over.

"Based on our estimation, we're relatively optimistic about China's tourism economy for 2020. It's highly likely that the tourism consumption in China will rebound," said Dai Bin, head of CTA.

Read more: Virtual tour: The ultimate guide to visiting Chinese museums from home

(Cover image via VCG)