COVID-19 crises have transformed our society, and a new normal standard has been required in every aspect, including the tourism industry. To accommodate the social distancing measures and border controls put in place by government, fundamentally different approaches to providing tourism products and services were sought. Virtual tourism has rapidly attracted attention in this challenging time. Researchers have argued the capability and potential of virtual tourism as a marketing tool; however, scant literature on authentic experiences in virtual tourism is currently available. This research focused on the perception of online tour participants and examined the potential of virtual tourism in forming meaningful and authentic experiences. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with 19 online tour participants in August and October 2021. Thematic analyses were adopted. The findings illustrated both positive and negative outcomes perceived by the online tour participants. The participants did not always seek authenticity in online tours but perceived the tours as substitute of real tour, pre-visit experience, new travel genre, and alternative entertainment. They did not perceive the online tours as completely unrealistic but regarded physical and sensorial involvements in the tour as an important component of experiencing authenticity. Tour guides appeared to have played an invaluable role in engaging participants and co-creating meaningful experiences. Virtual tourism offers the potential to create alternative experiences that influence accessibility, education, entertainment, and marketing. Transforming tourism experiences expands tourism markets, and transformed tourists become more diverse and inclusive.
Naoko Yamada, Kanazawa University, Japan
Makiko Matsuda, Kanazawa University, Japan
Aiko Yoshino, San Francisco State University, United States