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Memory imprints from virtual tourism - Students explore potential of virtual tourism

Tourism Grand Tour study unit strengthened the competence of students in the area of virtual tourism.

The Laurea University of Applied Sciences Tourism Grand Tour study unit, which came to an end in May, strengthened the competence of students in the area of virtual tourism. The study unit was implemented in cooperation with the University of Coventry’s London unit and the Ostelea - School of Tourism & Hospitality in Barcelona.

The popularity of virtual tourism has grown among tourists. Although the growth in popularity has been partly dictated by necessity, virtual tourism is here to stay. In particular, the performance of technology and smart devices has improved so much that it is now possible for anyone to receive virtual tourism experiences.

Tourist destinations use virtual environments in very different ways. In a virtual environment, users can get to know a destination, and there are almost unlimited possibilities for customising user experiences. Higher Education Institutions (HEI) cooperation in the Tourism Grand Tour studies facilitated the review of virtual tourism at numerous different destinations.

Virtual tourism as a solution for overtourism?

HEI cooperation related to the Tourism Grand Tour studies comprised two parts. The first part was implemented with the University of Coventry, and students investigated the use of virtual tourism at destinations likely to suffer from overtourism in the new normal. Operating methods in accordance with responsible tourism and sustainable development were selected as the starting point for the students’ work.

Cooperation proved that there are differences between the operating methods related to virtual tourism. Although virtual tourism will not replace travel in real environments, it will reduce overtourism. For example, virtual tourism allows people to experience environments that are closed at popular tourist destinations. It adds value to the travel experience. In addition, virtual tourism is an environmentally friendly way to travel.

The second part of the Tourism Grand Tour studies included cooperation with the Ostelea - School of Tourism & Hospitality in Barcelona. During that part, students investigated buying behaviours related to virtual tourism and analysed the possibilities, threats, strengths and weaknesses of virtual tourism at the destinations they selected. A total of six destinations were selected for the review: Tokyo, Singapore, Helsinki, Berlin, Malaga and Iceland.

International cooperation increased the students' understanding of how virtual tourism has been introduced  and to whom the services have been directed. The advantage of virtual environments seems to be that users can experience a tourist destination in advance. In addition, the virtual environment affects the image a person has of the tourist destination and thus has an impact on their purchase decision. In particular, the usability of virtual environments seems to be a challenge. There seem to be major differences between tourist destinations, in particular in their holistic user experience and product development.

Impact through higher education partnerships

Versatile study unit implementations are a key part of  Hospitality Management degree programmes. HEI co-operation contributed to Laurea's critical change projects, which include the strengthening and digitalisation of the international partnership network. Very promising cooperation and the use of diverse pedagogical practices represent flexible network cooperation in the development of education. 

Successful cooperation is based on active interaction. The piloting and testing of forms of cooperation are essential prerequisites for cooperation as well as a commitment to long-term development. There are good starting points for strengthening cooperation, as the cooperation we have engaged in with both higher education institutions has been successful in previous years.

The tourism industry now has new opportunities. When restrictive measures are discontinued, the utilisation of digitalisation will determine how successful these are. Securing the sustainable growth of tourism companies and producing new innovative solutions could be an even more integral part of international cooperation than previously. The piloting of business projects, which will increase the effectiveness of network cooperation, would be particularly helpful. Virtual tourism and digitalisation thus have a permanent place in innovation activities at the interface of tourism and other sectors.

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