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Online tours are not simply a substitute for actual travel, but a new style of tourism.

Japan’s “Go To Travel” campaign is aiding the travel industry’s gradual recovery, but amid ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, virtual tours are growing in popularity. High-definition footage of popular tourist attractions has been packaged with opportunities for online interaction to develop new ways to scratch the travel itch.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has enticed surprising new players into the tourism industry, such as publishing house Toppan Printing.

But the “travel” Toppan offers does not require contact with, or even movement of, people. Since September, Toppan has worked with its Tokyo-based subsidiary Toppan Travel Service, creating online tours that employ virtual reality technology and web-conferencing systems.

For over 20 years, Toppan has used VR technology to preserve high-definition images of cultural assets, leveraging image processing skills it developed for printing.

One of its first new offerings is a virtual tour of the popular temple Tōshōdai-ji, in Nara.

Toppan has plans for other online tours, including a special viewing of precious folding screen art from Kyoto, and a Zen meditation experience from Tokyo. The firm intends to market to corporate and school clients in particular, aiming for cumulative sales of ¥1 billion by March 2024.

The entry of unexpected players into online travel, spurred by the current pandemic, gives us glimpse into potential changes to tourism in the post-COVID-19 world. Online tours are not simply a substitute for actual travel, but a new style of tourism.

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