Virtual Tourists

Last week, YouTube rolled out a site completely dedicated to Anne Frank. The Official Anne Frank Channel features interviews with her father and the last known images of her as she watches a couple be married on the street.  This site invites you to "explore the life and significance of Anne Frank through unique images".  It is sponsored by the Anne Frank House, a living museum of the home where Anne and her family hid from the Nazi’s during World War II.

At first glance it looks like any other "virtual tour" website you might find for a museum or center – a collection of pictures put together to entice you to come to the museum and pay admission. But once I watched the director speak and watched a "Making of the Virtual Tour" video on the site, I came to realize it was much more than your standard website.  The Foundation has put a lot of work into creating a real experience that some of us would never be able to have otherwise. Someone like me, who loves history, would love to travel the world and know what it’s like to see historically significant places in person. But if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I’ll probably never have the time to see all the things I want.

This channel reaches out to create something special for the everyday viewer. Instead of just posting pictures on the site, they have created a real "virtual world" that puts you in the middle of the rooms. While the online tour is still in development stages, it makes me think about what could be the future of vacations.

Take a tour guide, strap a web camera to his head, and give him a phone.  He can dial into a conference call, walk through the museum or historical site and show you the sites. Everyone’s lines are muted, so the tour guide is free to walk about and show the different sights, and at the end, the guide can do what they would usually do and open the floor up for questions or further explanations.

Of course, you lose some of the personal attachment since you’re not there in person to see the sights and sounds.  But when you really think about it, are you missing that much? You’re really not doing anything differently by traveling across the world – just looking, only through a web camera.

Personally, I can’t wait to see the Anne Frank House virtual tour completed.

What do you think?  Can video conferencing revolutionize the travel industry? Would you "vacation" from the comfort of home?