As tourism tumbles, more travelers consider virtual getaways

A Tibetan tourist attraction saw a record crowd of visitors on a virtual tour.


March 11, 2020

Less than 2 weeks ago, the Potala Palace — a popular Tibetan tourist magnet — saw a record-breaking 1m+ visitors.

Meanwhile, governments worldwide are telling people to avoid large gatherings and #StayTheF*ckHome —  to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The World Health Organization just declared the outbreak a pandemic, so at this point, packin’ it in at the Potala might sound a little… nuts. But take heart: The tourists all visited on their smartphones.

Landmarks are going ghost town…

…and tourist hotspots are going virtual. The idea isn’t new — you can even get your Francophile on(line) at the Louvre — but the options are expanding: 

  • Alibaba Live lets people peep the Potala Palace, explore the Magao Caves in northwestern China, and get their fix at the Chengdu Panda Base.
  • One Chinese museum saw ~5.8m people flood its first 2 live-streamed tours — about the same number of IRL visitors to the museum in 3 months (!).
  • In the US, the online options at the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis and the Met in NYC might satisfy even the toughest couch-surfing art critic.

In China, the live streams turned into something else: revenue streams. Twenty museums have shops on Alibaba’s Taobao Live. One tour guide told Sixth Tone that souvenir sales on one busy virtual day were 4x higher than usual.

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