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Virtual travel offers escape during quarantine

Northern lights in Norway seen through VR (KT)
Northern lights in Norway seen through VR (KT)

While the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down vacation plans for people around the world, it cannot not stop the desire to travel.

Virtual reality is stepping in as people seek new ways to go out and explore the world from the safety of their homes.

Major telecommunication companies in Korea including SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus offer VR services that include travel content. As people quarantine themselves indoors, the companies saw a sharp rise in the use of VR content related to travel.

SKT reported a 41.7 percent increase in the VR travel content usage in their VR app, “Jump VR,” for the month of March compared to January. SKT thinks the popularity is due to the ability of VR to provide users with a realistic experience as if they were visiting the tourist attractions.


Haeundae in Busan seen through VR (KT)
Haeundae in Busan seen through VR (KT)

The top travel content was, “I’m going to go see Son Heung-min. Where? In Tottenham’s Stadium,” “Kumgangsan and Berlin come after a meal, Food Travel” and “2019 Lotte World Tower Fireworks.”

KT also provides VR travel, where users can use KT’s Super VR to watch 220 items of content.

“Media service that you can experience firsthand like VR is very real and immersive, becoming a good alternative to those stuck at home due to the COVID-19,” said director Park Jung-ho of KT. “The night sky of New York and northern lights of Norway are especially mesmerizing and realistic and have been on top of the popularity charts throughout March. And users’ interest for new travel content is continuously rising,” he said.

Of the VR contents KT provides, four travel content placed in the top 10 most popular contents, including “New York, New York, New York,” “Venezuela’s Angel Falls,” “Northern lights of Norway” and “Great white sharks of Mexico.” China’s Great Wall and Korean content including dolmens and castle walls were added last week.

Companies providing VR travel said VR development is making progress in the gaming industry, but they hope that VR travel can gain attention during the pandemic.

Other ways of enjoying VR travel are flourishing. Jeju TOVR is an app that presents around 200 places on Jeju Island in VR. By providing food places and famous tourist sites, the app previously was used by people planning trips to Jeju Island. Now, as COVID-19 continues to spread, it has become a way for people to experience Jeju Island in the comfort of their homes.

“The benefits of VR travel include prefect weather and ability to see places in the best possible season. Also, kids can approach animals up close and elderly who have trouble with walking up Halla mountain can enjoy without straining themselves,” said Choi Ji-young of Jeju TOVR.

“The biggest limitation is that people do not have the tools for viewing VR travel, but as more people obtain them, virtual travel will be more widespread,” said Choi.

Google Earth and 360 degree videos of National Geographic are also sought out by many staying home and wanting to travel and explore the world. 


Users wear a head-mounted display to view VR content. (SKT)
Users wear a head-mounted display to view VR content. (SKT)

By Lim Jang-won (ljw@heraldcorp.com)
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