Richard Turen
Richard Turen

For me it is specific. I don't so much miss traveling. I do miss being in Italy. I am saddened by the knowledge that I just can't catch a flight to Milan or Rome on a whim. The great New York restaurateur, Danny Meyer, once said, "I gasp for air if I don't get to breathe Italian air once a year."

The subject of traveling virtually to Italy came up with my friend, Andrea Grisdale of IC Bellagio, a multi-award-winning supplier based within sight of Lago -- I'm sorry, Lake -- Como.

I was suggesting that Andrea might develop a collection of virtual experiences using unemployed guides who might welcome the opportunity to have Zoom guests join them for a stroll through the portions of Italy they plan to visit when Covid time ends. I thought of virtual meals and insider tips from local residents.

Andrea waited for me to finish and then calmly explained that, yes, it was a wonderful idea, which is why she had already done it. Minutes later, I received the preliminary brochure filled with experiences for those who simply can't travel, students, frustrated Italy loyalists and romantics wanting to pretend that they were traveling in the best of company. 

The tours are wonderfully creative. You can tour Naples through the eyes of its most famous soccer star, Diego Armando, better known as Maradona. How about a Sunday morning visit to Pompeii for a look inside its architecture or a local insider view of the real Sicily of "Godfather" fame?

You can gift this experience to clients, family and friends for a $100, an astonishing value.

We know that Amazon, perhaps out of a sense of boredom of running the real world, has decided to enter the virtual travel world. But other, smaller entities are also getting involved in the notion of virtual experiences around the world.

Writing in Outside Magazine, senior editor Erin Riley discovered a place in the world where the tourism folks have joined forces with everyday residents to present real-life experiences for armchair travelers. Whenever they are doing something fun outside, residents of the isolated but spectacular Faroe Islands, a Danish archipelago of many birds and few people, strap on helmets equipped with a small camera. In that way, live and in real time, residents of the world can see residents of these small islands helicoptering, hiking and kayaking among incredible vistas.

The fact is, however, that virtual travel doesn't come close to creating the kind of travel experience we all seem to crave. But that is largely due to the fact that, other than the type of experiments I am describing, nothing has come along that would seem to replace actual physical travel. Virtual travel, at this point, is a very much "here's a preview of the real thing in 3D" kind of experience. It is an experimental concept that has the potential to dominate our industry.

Think about walking along a beach in Brisbane, Australia. By 2030, perhaps, you will be able to sprinkle miniscule transistors on your skin to simulate the rays of the sun and the spray of the ocean.

Soon, look for augmented virtual reality using a new type of contact lens replacing Google Goggles.

But for now, going to Puglia, virtually, to speak with an artisan about the art of producing world-class olive oil will have to be enough. 

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