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VR and AR in Heritage Tourism: Merging Online and Offline Worlds

Virtual reality and augmented reality have existed for many years, and have since taken a step forward by being implemented into museums, schools and other cultural sites with a mission to educate and preserve heritage. Today, this concept is called “heritage tourism” and is not limited to tourism, as we think of it today. Such technology imagines and contributes to a wide range of industries, being able to address racism and prejudice throughout time without limits to geography. 

The Beginning

The term “virtual tour” was coined in 1994 to describe a 3D recreation of Dudley Castle in England as it appeared in 1550, and it was the first museum show that employed virtual reality. 

Colin Johnson, a British engineer, developed the concept for this computer-controlled laserdisc device and Queen Elizabeth II used his invention to inaugurate the tourist center in June 1994. A hybrid of virtual reality and the Royal Tour, the system was given the name “Virtual Tour” by the Queen’s staff.

Today, several other entity’s have brought the past into reality through the use of VR and AR as well:

Machu Picchu Exhibit at Boca Raton Museum of Art, Florida, USA

Peru’s Machu Picchu sat on a ridge between both the Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu mountains and was built by the Incas in the 15th century. The Urubamba River can be seen from here, which is perched 8,000 feet above sea level. Machu Picchu is one of the world’s seven wonders because of its perfect preservation, the high quality of its sophisticated design, and the stunning views of the Andes Mountains. Coca, maize, and potatoes were grown in terraced fields around the 80,000-acre site’s perimeter.

Features like animal and human sacrifices were highlighted in the Boca Raton Museum of Art’s display. Even though the collection depicted a man having his heart ripped out and a silver sacrifice cup, children were also seen sacrificed after being given wine and coca leaf drugs and then left to freeze to death in the Andes, where their remains were kept for decades. The unusual fusion of Inca religious doctrine, natural disasters, and the sheer challenge of attempting to exist among the frigid heights of an unstable mountain range explained why the sacrifices were being performed, and the Boca Raton Museum of Art captivated the audience through VR and AR that made them feel like they were right there in the middle of it all.

The gold room was filled with gold-plated masks, “ear flares,” and even headpieces cut from solid gold sheets. Turquoise was cut and inlaid to make mosaic creatures or beads. A virtual reality trip to the “Fortress in the Sky” was also available in a room off the entryway. The Boca Raton Museum of Art made their audience into Incan warriors that toured Machu Picchu in a cocoon-like chair with headphones where they would leap over a cliff with butterflies and llamas watching below. Their VR and AR presented temples, irrigation systems, food storage chambers, farm fields, gods, symbols and earthquakes that would vibrate the earth and your chair. 

The Museum of the Future, Dubai, UAE

The Museum of the Future seeks to foster solutions to the challenges that future cities face through robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) and hosts several innovation labs dedicated to test new inventions in partnership with research institutes and universities in the health, education, smart cities, energy and transportation sectors.

The Arabic calligraphy engraved quotes on the exterior of the building were written by Emirati artist Matar Bin Lahej that read 3 quotes from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum:

  1. We won’t live for hundreds of years, but we can create something that will last for hundreds of years.
  2. The future will be for those who will be able to imagine, design and build it, the future does not wait, the future can be designed and built today.
  3. The secret of the renewal of life, the development of civilization and the progress of humanity is in one word: innovation.

Since 2016, virtual reality and cultural experts have been working with the Museum of the Future to reconstruct locations in order to maintain their existence through the use of 3D printing. One example of this is the reconstruction of a Roman arch. The 3D scale model was made by the Institute of Digital Archaeology using 3D computer models based on photographs of the original triumphal arch that were taken by archaeologists and tourists before the city of Palmyra, where the arch stood, was destroyed by ISIS.   

The Virtual Mayflower Project, United Kingdom (Virtual – accessed from any computer)

Spearheaded by Professor Bob Stone, Director of the University of Birmingham’s Human Interface Technologies (HIT) Group, the Virtual Mayfair Project uses virtual and augmented reality to place audiences into September 1620, when pilgrims took their last look at England. To make this project come to life, high school and college lesson materials were used. 

The Virtual Mayflower project implemented a wide range of technologies, from tethered and stand-alone VR headsets to wearable motion capture (MOCAP) systems and head-word AR displays to simulate environmental effects and animate virtual humans and their clothing. 

The Point

Most people want a genuine cultural experience. By having a hotel focus on local history, culture, legacy or a particular heritage, its able to bring a genuine cultural experience that people want. By implementing VR and AR into this experience, people are no longer limited by geography and instead can “travel” and learn about the heritage, history and different cultures through experiencing it as if they were actually there – even if it is virtual. Museums, schools, hotels and other organizations can all benefit through the use of VR and AR and capture an audience that is willing, ready and should learn something new and different to make progress.

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