Virtual tours of the natural wonders

Due to restrictions caused by the pandemic, possibility to visit wild nature objects was banned. According to a study carried out by Estonian and Swedish scientists, the satisfaction from a virtual tour of sites with nature is influenced by people and depends from their age as well as their educational level. 

Virtual tours help to reduce the environmental damage caused by tourists. For example, the Piusa Caves in the south of Estonia are exactly the place that tourists cannot fully explore due to the colony of bats living there and the danger of the caves collapsing. Therefore, the caves can be fully explored with the help of a virtual tour in the tourist center which is located here.

Scientists from the University of Tartu, the University of Life Sciences and Umeo University conducted a survey among visitors to the Piusa Caves on ecotourism and satisfaction with the virtual nature tour experience. The result gave a somewhat unexpected answer to the question of tourism development.

The study found that dissatisfaction with the virtual tour experience is mainly caused by a lack of vivid impressions, a direct sense of the place and nature, and a lack of opportunities to communicate with other people. These visitors, hungry for these emotions, were less satisfied with the virtual experience than others.

Visitors' expectations and need to experience nature through virtual technology has become an important factor predicting satisfaction from a virtual nature tour. For people with less needs, it is more convenient to use a virtual tour, despite the fact that it does not cause great emotions and does not provide a lively-like experience. They also don't need additional incentives to enhance their experience.

Across different age groups, people in age from 51 to 70 were the most satisfied with the virtual tour experience. While previous studies have shown that older people are less tolerant of virtual excursions, a survey of Piusa visitors has now shown that older people are the ones who prefer to watch excursions on the screen. One explanation may lie in the convenience of the virtual tour. Also, for people with a lower level of education, a virtual tour to nature was more acceptable.

The results of the study in Piusa showed that travel conditions can also influence the satisfaction of the virtual tour experience in nature. Those for whom it is important to experience comfort, gustatory pleasures (for example, a culinary experience), but not necessarily interacting with others while traveling, are more satisfied with the virtual tour experience. However, for those who value social and physical contact, a virtual nature tour is not the best solution.

Attitudes towards virtual walks in nature are also influenced by attitudes towards the environment. Among people who want a thrill and who value nature and conservation were much more positive about the virtual nature tour than people who are indifferent to nature. It can be concluded that information that emphasizes the nature and fragility of the habitat can also convince people with a very high need for real travel to try to enjoy nature from a distance.

Research by Kati Orru, Sergei Kase and Annika Nordlund has been published in the Journal of Ecotourism. The popular science summary was prepared within the framework of “Data Interpretation and Subject Course Presentation” by the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Tartu.