New-concept travel in time of COVID-19 pandemic

Lu Feiran
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the world, technology allows people to reimagine their concept of travel while faraway locations remain unreachable.
Lu Feiran

As sporadic COVID-19 cases are being reported in China, many have to change their travel plans for the upcoming Spring Festival holiday, or stay where they are, in favor of having a "staycation."

A friend of mine who prefers to be identified as "Maple Mushroom" is just in such a predicament.

A writer and editor for a self-media website, she had booked a trip to Guangdong Province for a warmer holiday, but recently her employer advised her to reconsider the decision.

"We received a notice from HR that, as long as you are not going home for the holiday, you'd better stay in Shanghai," she said. "So I canceled the hotel and train ticket, and, fortunately, it didn't cause much loss."

Her tone made me speculate about how travel itself is morphing in the time of the pandemic. Back in early 2020, when COVID-19 first broke out, the tourism industry, in general, remained upbeat, with many predicting that travel, inbound or outbound, would recover soon after the pandemic.

Two years later, with the pandemic continuing to wreak havoc globally, experts are more wary in their forecasts. As more contagious strains of coronavirus keep cropping up, restrictive containment measures or even lockdowns could be implemented locally anywhere, anytime.

New-concept travel in time of COVID-19 pandemic
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

Visitors tour the newly-opened Expo Culture Park in Shanghai during the New Year holiday.

Is the very concept of travel mutating, too, if we have to live with the coronavirus for the long haul?

It seems the market has already come up with at least two answers: first, "micro" tourism, and second, immersive experiences.

Micro tourism means exploring in-depth the place one lives in, making short trips to nearby destinations, usually within a two-hour ride. Since the trip lasts only one to two days, it could be considered an option for the weekends.

According to the Shanghai Administration of Culture and Tourism, last year Shanghai's tourism revenue registered a 30 percent growth, chiefly attributable to local residents.

Many residents are compelled to adapt to the new situation. Instead of contemplating a long holiday at a destination half a world away, they are turning to nearby places from time to time, though they are equally ready to splurge on these small-time destinations. If anything, the sacrifices make them feel less guilty about spending on expensive hotels and seafood near their home.

But what if you maintain a desire to go to faraway places that are simply not available for the moment? Well, new technologies might come in handy.

New-concept travel in time of COVID-19 pandemic
Ti Gong

A duplicated No. 220 cave of Mogao Grottoes at the "Into the Dunhuang Tales"

With the idea of Metaverse, people will be able to "travel" through exhibitions ― all it takes is a pair of virtual reality headsets and goggles capable of conjuring up immersive experiences.

The current "Into the Dunhuang Tales" in Shanghai is a case in point. Located in Columbia Circle in Changning District, the exhibition includes a replica of Mogao Grotto 220, one of the most important early Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) caves. Visitors are able to step into the replicated cave and marvel at the frescoes digitally.

To some extent, the experience might even be superior to the on-site trip, because the grotto is not on the itinerary of a routine trip, and visitors need to pay extra to visit the cave at designated times.

Thus, although my friend "Maple Mushroom" has canceled her trip to Guangdong, her holiday is still overscheduled: She will visit the Zhaojialou ancient town for a snack shop serving allegedly the best crab soup dumplings in town; her camera is ready for the Dunhuang exhibition; and for the rest of holiday, she will be immersed in video games.

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