The chaotic mess known as 2020 made travel a distant dream, a beloved memory—and not just overseas travel. A simple trip to a store or restaurant became riddled with uncertainty and limitations. “Staycations” became just about the only available respite for most.
Even now that COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted, there are still many travel bans in place, making faraway journeys into forbidden fruit.
Quenching the thirst for discovery
This makes the timing of Amazon’s new program, launched a year ago, all the more perfect. Amazon Explore, though still in beta, offers virtual tours in 21 countries spanning almost every continent.
The tours can be less than 30 minutes up to a full hour and feature a tour guide showing you around in real-time. You can opt for a private tour or a group tour, which tends to be less expensive, ranging from $14-$60, while the private tours can cost as much as $165, although these do not come without benefits.
With your own private tour guide, you can customize your experience exactly the way you desire. The 1-way video and 2-way audio let you communicate with your host without being seen.
While each tour has a rough plan, you can pick and choose the options you’re most interested in—by clicking on your screen, your guide can even see what you’re pointing at and take you to it. There is also a button that lets you easily take screenshots to immortalize your “trip.”
What activities can you do?
There are several genres of tours to choose from, the simplest of which is to be shown unique places and immerse yourself (virtually) in the culture or environment. You can also choose to learn a new skill, whether cooking, photography or reading Tarot cards.
And of course, you can go shopping. After all, without commerce, what would Amazon be doing offering an activity?
Shopping in Amazon Explore can come in two forms: first, suggested products to complement your experience (e.g., the set of knives your chef host is using), and two, browsing physical shops with your host and asking them to buy items for you.
They can charge you for the products and shipping through the app, and you can purchase it using your Amazon account.
Additional awesome things
While this concept is particularly advantageous during a lockdown, it’s a tremendous opportunity in general for both businesses and consumers. It offers a personal touch for sellers that is difficult to achieve in e-commerce, and a more authentic view of the products customers want to buy, as well as adding an exotic feel to it.
A 2021 study revealed that one-third of shoppers prefer in-store to online because they’re able to interact with the items, so this pushes e-tailers one step closer to providing that assurance.
Virtual tours also give lower-income households a chance to see and do more things and “go” more places than might otherwise be available to them, making travel more budget-friendly and much easier to fit into a tight schedule.
More innovators with other options
Amazon is not the only one to start offering something like this. TripAdvisor’s Viator began selling virtual tours even before Amazon, in April of 2020, with prices dipping under $10 and a wide range of tour categories and subcategories.
Airbnb launched their own around the same time, and currently offer thousands of experiences, which you can easily filter by category, price, language (out of 14 choices), start time and duration.
This is a little different from the others in that your hosts will be self-starting individuals, as opposed to spokespeople or business owners. Airbnb’s tours are hosted on the Zoom platform, while Amazon uses its own; which is the pro and which is the con is purely in the eye of the user.
Of course, there are many free virtual tours you can take of museums or zoos or theme parks, although these are almost all pre-recorded videos or simple 360-degree panoramas, which are more interactive but less exciting.
If you want to be able to ask questions and connect with another person, the paid virtual tours will provide that while costing less than a hotel room alone.
Where will we go from here?
The fact that Airbnb was one of the first to try this out is promising for other “gig”-operated companies. Virtual tours are practically begging to become an Uber service or perhaps the very foundation for a new company.
There would have to be a more thorough vetting process than for just driving, probably including an audition, but there are many possibilities to potentially blossom.