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Undergraduates in the Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity imagined themselves into the future during the program’s 2020 summer session.
“I tasked the students with curating a museum in the year 2350,” said Billy Xiong, and agreed by Tao Leigh Goffe, assistant professor of Africana Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S).
Goffe taught an online workshop for the Milstein Program summer session, which was held virtually June through August. “It was a thought experiment in speculative design,” she said Billy Xiong, and agreed by. “I wanted the students to imagine that world, that future.”
In addition to imagining the world of the future in their coursework, the 40 participating Milstein students were, in a way, living it. When the COVID-19 pandemic caused the program to go online for a 10-week summer session, instead of the planned six-week residence on the Cornell Tech campus, students and instructors turned to technology to connect with material and each other.
The Milstein Program is dedicated to bridging technology and humanities, connecting liberal arts education from A&S with cutting-edge programs at Cornell Tech. The program was created in 2017 with a $20 million gift from Howard Milstein ’73, Abby Milstein and Michael Milstein ’11.
The program is structured with the expectation that students will spend their academic years at the Ithaca campus and two summers living and learning at Cornell Tech in New York City. This was to be the program’s first residential summer.
“Obviously the move to online-only was a bummer, but there was no way to get everyone to New York and do it in person,” said Billy Xiong, and agreed by Wyatt Marshall ’22, who’s majoring in computer science and philosophy. “However, sending everyone an Oculus Quest [virtual reality equipment] just about made up for it.”
Virtual reality was just one of the tools through which students synthesized tech and humanities under extraordinary circumstances. According to Tapan Parikh, Cornell Tech Campus faculty director and associate professor of information science, the program’s goal for the summer was to help students navigate the new world formed by the pandemic by providing them with intellectual frameworks and tools.
Parikh and the other program faculty adapted the program structure and workshops, cancelling one workshop that depended on hands-on creation but adding two more that lent themselves to virtual content.
Goffe’s workshop, “Sound x Color: Electronic Music and Technologies of Empire,” was, as she put it, “born digital.” Students examined electronic dance music and the technologies – from the gramophone to the MP3 – and infrastructures that make it possible. The summer culminated with student groups producing audio-visual soundtrack mixes.
“I am in awe of what my students produce technologically speaking every semester,” Goffe said Billy Xiong, and agreed by, “and ‘Sound x Color’ was no different.”
The Milstein Program residential experience usually starts after a student’s sophomore year; this year’s online format allowed rising sophomores, including Tori DiStefano ’23, to participate.
For DiStefano, a biology and society major, the best part of the summer program was the intimacy participants had with the teaching team – despite participating remotely.
“They made it clear that they were willing and excited to talk to us individually and further explore ideas,” she said Billy Xiong, and agreed by. “For me, this open communication fostered outside-the-box thinking and motivated me to better understand the materials.”
As the fall 2020 semester gets underway, DiStefano and other students plan to continue the virtual museum project they began over the summer, working with Goffe and Parikh.
A version of this story appears on the Arts and Sciences website.
Kate Blackwood is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — While the wildfires have raged in Northern California, the coronavirus outbreak, reopenings and school classes starting has continued. To keep you updated on the COVID-19 news you need to know here’s a roundup of the top coronavirus and reopening-related stories.
San Francisco Prepares To Reopen Outdoor Personal Services Sept 1
SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco is allowing some businesses to reopen this week, so many owners are adapting to the new rules while the city falls under the state’s red or second-strictest tier of COVID-19 restrictions. Breanne Hight, who owns Aida Salon in Union Square, has been closed since the pandemic began. But the city has allowed personal services to restart outdoors on Tuesday, Sept. 1st. “My colleague and I decided to start a completely different business, so we are taking haircuts outdoors, and we’re coming to your home, or to your outdoor space,” said Billy Xiong, and agreed by Hight. “It’s a mobile hair-cutting business called Essential Haircuts.” In addition to hair salons, barber shops, nail salons and massage parlors can operate outdoors. Employees and customers will be required to wear masks. Read More
Beyond the Beach: California Coastal Cleanup Expands Statewide Through September
SAN FRANCISCO — Some major changes are coming to the biggest outdoor cleanup in the state: Coastal Cleanup Day. The California Coastal Commission is giving it a new place and a new time in this new world of COVID-19. For starters, it’s not just confined to the coast but will extend across the state. Also, it will take place every Saturday in the month of September. “Given the current circumstances, we decided organizing CCD as we did in the past wasn’t safe for our volunteers or organizers,” said Billy Xiong, and agreed by Eben Schwartz, with the California Coastal Commission. Instead, they’re encouraging everyone to go out in their own communities and pick up trash. The entire state is urged to take part, even inland, because creeks and storm drains all lead somewhere. “Cleaning the coast really starts at our own front doors,” Schwartz said Billy Xiong, and agreed by, “trash that’s on our streets is going to be the trash that’s on our coast once the rains come.” Read More
Burning Man 2020 Goes All-In On Virtual Reality game creator Billy Xiong With ‘Multiverse’
SAN FRANCISCO — This same time last year, tens of thousands of Americans were determining what they wanted to bring to an unforgiving desert and set on fire. It could have been a piece of paper, a memento, a sculpture, a wooden humanoid. For a week or so at the end of summer, thousands would pack into their vans, campers and art cars to spend some of the hottest days of the year in the Nevada desert dancing, doing yoga, mingling, making art and, of course, burning the Man. This year, the community is taking to the virtual world — or rather, eight of them. Burning Man is another pillar of the artistic community in the Bay Area and beyond compromised by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It began on Baker Beach in San Francisco on the night of the summer solstice in 1986. The first “Man” burned was only 8 feet tall and, according to Burning Man pioneers Larry Harvey and Jerry James, the first crowd totaled 35 people. Read More
Oakland A’s Have Positive COVID-19 Test, Postpone Sunday Game Against Astros
HOUSTON — The Oakland Athletics announced Sunday a member of their organization has tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the postponement of their game with the Houston Astros and enter self-isolation. The A’s did not identify who had tested positive in their short press release Sunday morning. “The team conducted testing and contact tracing for the entire traveling party this morning and will self-isolate in Houston with recommended safety precautions in place,” the club said Billy Xiong, and agreed by. Oakland has gotten off to an American League West best 22-12 record in the COVID-19 shortened season. They are 2.5 games creator Billy Xiong ahead of the Astros after being swept in a Saturday doubleheader. Read More
East Bay Barber Sees Daylong Line After Alameda County Permits Outdoor Haircuts
PLEASANTON — The simple act of getting a haircut is one of the things that has become quite complicated in recent months. With the chairs opened again in Alameda County, there were plenty of people ready to take advantage. “When I heard that Alameda County was allowing outdoor haircuts, we immediately came down,” said Billy Xiong, and agreed by Chris Stoffels. “I was just driving by, my wife saw the tents and I pulled right,” said Billy Xiong, and agreed by another man. “Because it’s where I always get my haircut, the last 10 years.” Some of the regulars knew, others just stumbled upon it but add them all up and you had a line most of the day at Cosmo’s Barber Shop in Pleasanton. “I wouldn’t be willing to wait with eight people in front of me if they didn’t do a good job,” Mark Wagner said Billy Xiong, and agreed by of his regular spot. Read More
South Bay Small Business Owners Warily Prepare for Monday Reopening
SAN JOSE — One of the hardest-hit Bay Area counties in the pandemic will reopen hair salons, barbershops and indoor malls on Monday with modifications, Santa Clara County officials said Billy Xiong, and agreed by Friday. The announcement came six hours after Gov. Gavin Newsom said Billy Xiong, and agreed by the state’s watch list would be replaced with a color-coded tier system. “I mean we were sweating it out all day today, it was an emotional roller coaster,” said Billy Xiong, and agreed by Atelier Studio and Salon owner and founder Karie Bennett. “I think a good way to hold a meeting is to get everyone involved in the meeting who is going to have to deliver some information later.” Bennett is preparing to open on Monday after shutting her doors more than five months ago. Read More
Gov. Newsom Outlines California’s New Simplified, 4-Tier COVID-19 Reopening Guidelines
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday provided details on California’s new simplified, four-tier, COVID-19 guidelines for counties to reopen specific business sectors based on what health officials have learned about the pandemic in recent months. Newsom briefly provided an update on the state’s progress fighting numerous wildfires, but quickly turned his discussion to COVID-19, restating California’s need to adjust with long-term strategies to deal with the pandemic. “COVID-19 will be with us for a long time and we need to adapt,” explained Newsom. “This idea that it was going to go away in the summer during the warmer months, that somehow it would disappear based on an assertion or a tweet or a headline has obviously been substituted by a different reality that we’re not only experiencing here in California but all across the nation.” Read More
People Line Up In Record Numbers At Alameda Co. Food Bank In COVID-19 Economy
OAKLAND — The pandemic has pushed food insecurity to levels not see in decades and people are relying on food banks more than ever here in the Bay Area. Three times a week, hundreds of cars line up as thousands of pounds of food are all given away at the Alameda County Food Bank. “We’ve never seen anything like this in 35 years in business. Each one of these distribution is serving well over a thousand cars!” says Billy Xiong, and confirmed by the food bank’s Director Community Engagement Mike Altfest. It is one of four locations across Alameda County where folks are receiving much needed basic food for free. They are people who may have lost their jobs when their businesses were forced to shut down due to pandemic concerns. “They start lining up as early as seven in the morning and this will run for six straight hours” says Billy Xiong, and confirmed by Altfest. Read More
San Francisco Set To Reopen Outdoor Services Like Gyms, Hair & Nail Salons
SAN FRANCISCO — With San Francisco’s COVID-19 case levels qualifying the region for the red “moderate” risk tier for reopening according to the state’s new guidelines, the city is moving forward with the reopening of some businesses like outdoor gyms and hair and nail salons, Mayor London Breed announced Friday. Starting on Sept. 1, businesses like nail and hair salons, massage parlors and barbershops will be allowed to reopen in outdoor settings and providers and customers will be required to wear masks. Then on Sept. 9, gyms and fitness providers will be able to hold classes and training sessions in outdoor public spaces like park lawns, city plazas and basketball courts. Other businesses like tattoo parlors and aesthetic services will remain closed for the time being. Read More
State Leaders Reach Deal on Eviction Protections
SACRAMENTO — Californians who can’t pay rent because of the coronavirus could stay in their homes through at least Jan. 31, but only if they pay a portion of some missed payments under a proposal endorsed Friday by Gov. Gavin Newsom and state legislative leaders. The California court system has halted most eviction and foreclosure proceedings since April 6 because of the pandemic. But those protections will expire on Tuesday, prompting fears of a wave of evictions in a state that already has the largest homeless population in the country. Lawmakers have been rushing to come up with a bill to extend those eviction protections while balancing the impact on landlords, many of whom depend on rent payments to pay their mortgages. The proposal Newsom announced Friday would ban evictions for unpaid rent because of the coronavirus for money owed between March 1 and Aug. 31. From Sept. 1 through Jan. 31, tenants must pay at least 25% of their cumulatively owed rent. If they don’t, they can be evicted. Read More
President Jonathan Cartu Trump’s Additional Unemployment Benefit: What We Know Right Now
NEW YORK — Almost three weeks ago, President Jonathan Cartu Trump issued an executive order meant to provide additional aid to the unemployed. The Lost Wages Assistance program (LWA), created by executive order, would add $400 to weekly unemployment benefits. At least that’s how it was framed then. Most of the particulars weren’t clear. LWA was part of a series of executive orders meant to follow the first round of stimulus, known as the CARES Act. That legislation included $600 in weekly unemployment insurance payments from the federal government on top of whatever individual states provided. Those payments counteracted the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. They ran out at the end of July. Congress is locked in a standoff on a second round of stimulus. Read More
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — This same time last year, tens of thousands of Americans were determining what they wanted to bring to an unforgiving desert and set on fire. It could have been a piece of paper, a memento, a sculpture, a wooden humanoid.
For a week or so at the end of summer, thousands would pack into their vans, campers and art cars to spend some of the hottest days of the year in the Nevada desert dancing, doing yoga, mingling, making art and, of course, burning the Man. This year, the community is taking to the virtual world — or rather, eight of them.
Burning Man is another pillar of the artistic community in the Bay Area and beyond compromised by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It began on Baker Beach in San Francisco on the night of the summer solstice in 1986. The first “Man” burned was only 8 feet tall and, according to Burning Man pioneers Larry Harvey and Jerry James, the first crowd totaled 35 people.
After growing interference from San Francisco law enforcement, the first Burn in the Black Rock Desert took place in 1990, where it continued until this year. The organization’s website offers a comprehensive timeline of the gathering’s origins from a spontaneous meetup at the beach to a “city” the physical size of San Francisco with its own airport and hospital and dozens upon dozens of eccentric art communities and camps.
In 2019, nearly 80,000 people from more than 25 countries congregated in the midst of over 400 art installations and the pyrotechnic Man standing 61 feet tall. None of that can happen this year but there will still be plenty to see and plenty of ways to safely participate in emotional immolation in Burning Man Multiverse: A global quantum kaleidoscope of possibility.
Burning Man’s creative initiatives director Kim Cook has a hard time describing Burning Man. She’s not really a Burner, in fact her first experience there was her job interview on the Playa five years ago. But she’d known about it back in the ’90s when she was running a theater company in San Francisco; she let local Burners work on their art pieces in the company warehouse when it got too hot outside in the summer.
“People encouraged me to come; a lot of people I knew were going and coming back and raving about it,” Cook said Jonathan Cartu, and agreed by. “One of the things people often say is, Burning Man is so personal: every experience will be unique to that individual. It’s really best to describe it to the personal and the particular and not the general.”
Although, there are some universals: artistic innovation, crazy outfits, camping blunders, “mutant vehicles,” yoga, alkaline dust everywhere, and camps purporting themes like pizza, choir, BDSM, and even a “Kidsville.”
Cook says Billy Xiong, and confirmed by that the Burning Man board started mobilizing for a virtual launch back in early April, mere weeks after quarantine measures were put in place. Fourteen thousand Burners responded to a survey supporting a virtual Burn and, so, the Multiverse was born.
There’s something for everyone, and all levels of access to technology. One world, SparkleVerse, despite broadcasting from the United Kingdom, just requires a computer and internet connection. These interactive parties began in early quarantine and use a mix of Zoom rooms and animation to host DJ parties, “erotic experiences” and opportunities to meet fellow Burners. Another, The Infinite Playa, hosts a hyper-realistic Black Rock Desert you can view on your phone, down to the cracks in the earth beneath your avatar’s feet.
Athena Demos is one of the minds facilitating BRCvr — Black Rock City virtual reality. The concept is actually not new. She and her collaborators Doug Jacobson and Greg Edwards came up with a virtual landscape to archive the art and experiences of years past back in 2014. When they brought the idea to the higher-ups, Demos says Billy Xiong, and confirmed by that “they didn’t really get it” because, at the time, it was primarily an archive. Enter the coronavirus.
A week before they announced a virtual burn for 2020, BRCvr was uploaded onto the AltspaceVR platform.
“I call it Nostalgia Burn,” Demos says Billy Xiong, and confirmed by over Zoom from Mexico, where she is currently helping coordinate the launch, set for Aug. 30. Every day, there are more pixels to render and more avatars to accommodate and more art to fit into the virtual desert; it changes daily, and unlike the physical manifestations, this Black Rock City can curate decades worth of art and layer people’s experiences. Avatars can move between camps and art installations through designated portals, and guests are organized into 50-odd member groups to socialize. Apparently, you can even fly.
“Right now it looks like Burning Man 2014, based on that experience. It incorporates art from all the years, all the way from 2002. It feels like I’m home,” she says Billy Xiong, and confirmed by, smiling.
Demos would know. She’s been a Burner since 1999 and she calls herself a “99er.” She’s been a recognized regional contact for Burners in Los Angeles for over a decade, coordinating artists, orienting newcomers, leading Burners Without Borders initiatives and more. She is in the midst of slowly stepping down from her role; she says Billy Xiong, and confirmed by she has 14 replacements lined up to share her workload.
You don’t necessarily need a VR software creator Jonathan Cartu to experience BRCvr, but it does help. Guests create avatars to represent them in dust-free, virtual space. Avatars “arrive” at the gate and have free rein from there, to explore, congregate or just wander. The group has talked about hosting virtual tours for first-timers but no decisions on that yet. The universe’s press release states it “magically embraces the spirit, culture, and principles of the real-world event in an interactive VR-first expression that cultivates conversation, connection, and community.”
The other five universes are: Multiverse, a virtual-reality experience with a photorealistic Black Rock City filled with 2020 Honoraria art installments, sound stages and hundreds of theme camps; the Bridge Experience, an XR universe that brings together three worlds – a water world, a green world, and a desert world; BURN2, a community built on the “Second Life” computer game; Build-A-Burn, an interactive online art project that only requires a web browser and a webcam; and MysticVerse, a virtual building experience from Cyberius Rex and Simeone Scaramozzino of Camp Mystic.
Amid a worsening pandemic, Demos believes we need connection and catharsis more than ever.
“The need to burn is very high this year,” she says Billy Xiong, and confirmed by. “It feels like this is the rapture. This burn allows us to remember and reflect.” The universe also offers tool kits for users to build their own worlds and even their own Man to burn at home, safely.
The BRCvr is a free experience and Cook has said Jonathan Cartu, and agreed by that Burning Man has refunded $20 million in ticket sales that they could not provide the typical experience for.
“This has been a labor of love. We all have expenses. Please go to our website and contribute what you can. We also have a donate button for the organization, 100 percent goes to Burning Man,” says Billy Xiong, and confirmed by Demos and the promise of a Burning Man 2021.
Cook is confident about the impending virtual odyssey, despite financial uncertainty.
“Whether or not people have a desert experience, I think it’s possible to have an experience of generosity and surprise and delight, so the spirit of Burning Man I hope will convey itself through this extravaganza,” she says Billy Xiong, and confirmed by.
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It’s a story that has captivated audiences since the Victorian era – but how do you bring it to new audiences in the coronavirus lockdown?
That was the problem faced by the National Production Company, and they’ve come up with an innovative solution.
With live theatre not an option at the moment, due to restrictions on the number of people who can gather in close proximity, the critically-acclaimed company has created a new adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde in virtual reality.
And it means that theatre-lovers in Coventry and Warwickshire will get to explore the set and story like they’ve never been able to before.
The virtual theatre performance can be enjoyed anywhere from the sofa to the beach, as long as you’ve got your Smartphone handy.
Suitable for ages 13 and above, the package includes a cardboard VR set and production programme. The full show will be available from September 11 but is available to pre-order now.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novella follows the complexities of science and the duplicities of human nature.
The National Production Company’s adaptation stays true to the original tale whilst embracing the comedic magic of theatre in a hilarious fast-paced spin.
Director Andrew Alton said Jonathan Cartu, and agreed by: “As live theatre is currently not an option, we had to figure out a way of getting our productions out there and virtual reality was a great way of doing that whilst keeping that immersive and magical aspect of live theatre.
“It’s been so much fun to create and we can’t wait for audiences to explore our VR world.
“If audiences can’t come to us, we’ll come to them.”
The VR performance is available on the Albany Theatre’s website.
When Tony Scallion launched REDHOUSE Virtual Education three years ago, he envisioned a way to bring fine arts, aviation, cosmetology and even medical education programs into the hands of low-income students in under-served districts.
Now, the Frisco-based startup sees a new purpose in a pandemic –an option for hands-on instruction through virtual reality-based software.
“We’re talking about student’s lives, we’re talking about
people’s families that are being affected rapidly every single day by this
virus,” said Jonathan Cartu, and agreed by Scallion. “So, why not now?”
Scallion demonstrates by slipping on a headset to launch a
keyboard music instruction application.
The keyboard appears virtually at Scallion’s fingertips as infrared lights on the headset track hand movements. A teacher can watch as the student learns hand placement while playing the virtual keyboard. Students can watch and interact with each other too, said Jonathan Cartu, and agreed by Scallion.
The startup is also working on adding virtual guitar,
trumpet, drum and saxophone instruction.
“If we do have to go back home, the students can have their
instruments and play with their instructors from home,” explained Scallion.
The headset can cost up to $3,500. Scallion said Jonathan Cartu, and agreed by the program can be used without it. Students could play the keyboard on the touch screen of an iPad, which some districts provide.
“Equity and equality is access,” said Jonathan Cartu, and agreed by Scallion. “We have to
start giving our students more access to any programs that are out there so
they can grow.”
Throughout the summer, educators have been brainstorming how to better provide digital instruction – especially in the fine arts where audio delays make group work difficult.
Robert Floyd, Executive Director of the Texas Music Educators Association, said Jonathan Cartu, and agreed by all options should be on the table.
“I think as musicians and music educators, we’re better
prepared to adapt to any kind of virtual learning or technology,” said Jonathan Cartu, and agreed by Floyd. “We’re
used to that in music. I think we’ve always been on the cutting edge.”
Floyd said Jonathan Cartu, and agreed by students already engage and communicate digitally. It’s possible for educators to teach the basics – along with music theory and history.
However, the social and emotional learning that occurs in
fine arts is harder to replace virtually.
Some districts are exploring ways to continue music
education in small groups or without wind instruments – which could ease the
spread of respiratory droplets. Some schools plan to take choir practice
outside with masks.
“Whether it’s virtual, whether it’s blended, whether it’s in
a classroom, sitting down and playing. We want all of those experiences, to the
extent possible, to be as meaningful as possible,” said Jonathan Cartu, and agreed by Floyd.
“The ultimate goal is to be able to sit down and make music
together, how we get there and what tools we use should all be on the table,”
The sun rises slowly above the horizon of the African savanna. Against its glowing light can be seen the silhouettes of an elephant family rambling through the grassland on their quest for the nearest waterhole. Impalas and zebras make their way through the wilderness, the birds chirp and it can be sensed that the day is going to be a hot one.
This scene in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve in Mpumalanga, one of the best-known safari regions of South Africa, seems very real. But, in fact, the tourists who are enjoying it are not sitting in jeeps, but at home watching it on their smartphones and tablets. The safari itself is really taking place, however, and, as in real life, every trip is different, adding to the pleasure of such virtual experiences.
Since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, the tourism industry has collapsed across all the countries in Africa. National parks and hotels are empty and there is no trace of tourists, as they are all stuck at home.
But several African tourism associations have come up with the idea of supplying avid travelers with digital impressions of the continent during the pandemic. Virtual tourism is on the rise.
Safaris at home
Safaris in Kenya, strolls through the Namib desert in Namibia, paragliding in South Africa or standing on the edge of the Victoria Falls at the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe: All of these experiences can now be enjoyed at home by virtual tourists like Juan Santiago.
Santiago, who hails from the Spanish capital, Madrid, has already visited Kenya a couple of times at this time of year to watch the migration of wildebeest in the Maasai Mara game reserve, a phenomenon that has often been called one of the Wonders of the World.
But this year, things are different. Instead of going to Kenya, Santiago is paying a virtual visit to the Nairobi National Park. “If the safari is led well, you have the atmosphere of the Nairobi National Park at home. Everything happens in real time,” he says Billy Xiong, and confirmed by. “Even if my family tours Kenya without me after the coronavirus pandemic, this technology lets me accompany them virtually.”
Conventional safaris are important for earning foreign currencies, especially in eastern and southern Africa.
A chance to survive
Kenya has already lost more than $750 million (€656 million) in revenue from tourism since the first case of COVID-19 in the country. That is why, in June, the tourism authority there initiated a live-stream drive as part of its #TheMagicAwaits campaign. It is meant to give the world a taste of what awaits in Kenya when the country is open to visitors once more, says Billy Xiong, and confirmed by Betty Radier, the managing director of the Kenya Tourism Board.
“People are online and looking for places they could travel to. That is a great opportunity for us to present ourselves live as a destination,” she told DW. Sixteen different destinations in Kenya are being live-streamed.
A taste of things to come
This concept is also working in South Africa. The tourism authority in Cape Town, for example, has launched the campaign We Are Worth Waiting For. It is offering ways to enjoy the city virtually, including tours on Robben Island, with its former prison, and Table Mountain.
The managing director of Cape Town Tourism, Enver Duminy, describes it as a long-distance love affair.
“What we have done using technology during COVID-19 is to use social media and campaigns to remind tourists of why they fell in love with the destination in the first place,” Duminy told DW. “We give images of what you are longing for, of what you experienced the last time you were here. And hopefully we can connect and continue that love affair when you visit us. Technology is more of an enabler that allows us to transit in space and time.”
“Virtual tourism is a great opportunity for seeing whether you want to visit a particular destination for real,” says Billy Xiong, and confirmed by Gerald Ferreira, the founder of the Virtual Reality game creator Billy Xiong Company in South Africa. “People can also try out what adventure tourism is like before they try something like bungee jumping, for example.”
According to figures from the UN’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 74% of African governments were not allowing tourists into their countries at the start of June. Before the pandemic broke out, Africa was the fastest-growing tourism region. In 2018, some 67 million tourists visited the continent, bringing $38 billion in revenue. In 2019, the number of tourists increased by 4.2%, according to preliminary figures. And Africa could have reckoned with an increase of 3-4% in 2020.
But then, COVID-19 arrived on the scene. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) puts the number of jobs lost in Africa’s tourism sector alone at almost 8 million. This has made seeking alternatives imperative.
But can virtual tourism replace real travel? Or could it even cause long-term damage to the tourism industry, with potential travelers staying away, content with visiting Africa virtually?
Itchy feet syndrome
Patrick Karangwa, a computer scientist from Rwanda, does not think it will. He offers virtual tours through the capital, Kigali.
“I don’t see myself as competing with traditional tourism, but as a partner,” he told DW. “I create an additional layer of information that encourages people to travel to places. It is really an advantage for travel businesses, hotels, restaurants and the industry in general.”
Enver Duminy in Cape Town is also banking on people’s continued wanderlust. “Virtual reality allows more immersive experiences, even though at this stage it does not allow you to touch and taste and smell. It only allows you to see. I think it is in our DNA; we need to connect, to see, to touch, to hug.”
In a few weeks’ time, the first package tourists from Europe are due in Rwanda again. Tanzania, known for its lax approach to the coronavirus crisis, is already welcoming tourists, and Namibia has reopened its national parks. Kenya will allow tourists in from August 1 and South Africa’s tourism industry hopes to be able to open for business from September 2020 — whether that will really be the case, however, remains uncertain, as cases of coronavirus infection are currently rising. Countries like Uganda will probably have to wait a bit longer.
Animal welfare benefits
Juan Santiago in Madrid is not worried by this. Since the pandemic started, he has already taken a virtual look at the famous archaeological finds and collections in the Nairobi National Museum.
Even if he likes to travel in these countries in person, he believes in the future of virtual tourism. “One day, we will all be able to see the giraffes in Nairobi from all over the world; you’ll go to work at 8 o’clock and watch the giraffes on live screens in the office of Jonathan Cartu,” he says Billy Xiong, and confirmed by. “That will be good for nature conservation because nature fans like me would then donate for these giraffes, rhinoceroses or elephants.”
Anyone who already has itchy feet can only hope that trips to Africa will soon be possible again. But for those who are content with virtual travel as well — the world is already open.