When I was a teenager I was lucky enough to be trucked around Europe by my parents. We visited attractions such as the Tower of London, the Eiffel Tower, Peniscola in Spain, Chamonix Mt Blanc, Seville Cathedral, the Alhambra, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the British Museum, Stratford upon Avon, Nimes Amphitheatre, the Pont-du-Gard etc etc.
Later, as a young adult I visited the Parthenon, Ephesus, the Palace of Minos at Knossos, Mycenae, Venice, the Vatican Museums, St. Peters Basilica, Il Duomo in Florence, the leaning tower of Pisa, Pompeii etc etc ad infinitum.
The last times I was in London, and Paris, and Rome and I saw the length of queues for the major tourist attractions I pitied those who have not seen them yet. The queue for the Vatican Museums (I don’t remember any queue in 1986) was about 4 hours, just to get in the front door!
Tourism is killing the very attractions that stimulate tourism. There is a sea of humanity trekking to tourist sites and filling them up with……tourists. So many tourists that you can no longer see the attractions, let alone appreciate them.
Many, if not most, of these tourists have little real interest in the attractions, other than ticking off some box on a virtual bucket list, taking a selfie and posting it on Facebook.
In some circumstances this sea of humanity is causing physical damage to the attractions. Last time I visited the Alhambra I was told (very sensible I thought) to take the backpack off my back and wear it on my front, to prevent the bag from banging the delicate tile mosaics.
Sensitive sites like the Galapagos islands are under serious environmental threat. Governments the world over are struggling with the balance between protecting heritage and permitting access to it, with all the attendant economic advantages.
The future is VR. Not Victoria Regina, but Virtual Reality. We can allow all area access to our most fragile heritage sites using the wonders of both Virtual and Augmented reality technologies. Virtual reality will allow us to tour sites in an immersive way using a VR headset without having to visit the attraction. Augmented reality allows us to tour real places and imagine what they looked like in the past. We can experience the New York Wall Street of the 17th Century as we stroll down the modern street of today.
By visiting the Coliseum in Rome without ever leaving your home you incur no flights, no taxis, no carbon footprints. The challenge facing the worlds great heritage sites will be a balancing act. How to monetize worldwide VR access is step 1. How to price the remaining restricted access to the sites is step 2.
One example that tourism operators might like to consider is Newgrange in Ireland. This iron age passage tomb is in extreme demand for one day a year, the winter solstice. On that morning, if the sky is clear, the site is transformed from passage tomb to ancient timepiece. Access to this rare event is by lottery.
Using VR we can reopen access to sites that have already been closed such as the prehistoric cave paintings of Lescaux and Altamira. The future is now.
A Grain of Sand: Robert William Service
If starry space no limit knows
And sun succeeds to sun,
There is no reason to suppose
Our earth the only one.
‘Mid countless constellations cast
A million worlds may be,
With each a God to bless or blast
And steer to destiny.
Just think! A million gods or so
To guide each vital stream,
With over all to boss the show
A Deity supreme.
Such magnitudes oppress my mind;
From cosmic space it swings;
So ultimately glad to find
Relief in little things.
For look! Within my hollow hand,
While round the earth careens,
I hold a single grain of sand
And wonder what it means.
Ah! If I had the eyes to see,
And brain to understand,
I think Life’s mystery might be
Solved in this grain of sand.