Mayowa Adegoriola is a lecturer in the Department of Estate Management, University of Lagos and a PhD candidate in Building and Real Estate Department, Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She is a member of Urban Health and Liveability cluster.
Timothy Akinwande is a lecturer and PhD candidate in the Department of Estate Management, University of Lagos. He is a member of Land Management and Administration cluster.
The global outbreak of the pandemic, COVID – 19 has put nations on their toes, and having them seeking different means to protect citizens, curb the spread and minimise its effects on the economy.
In response to this pandemic, many countries resorted to shutting down most socio-economic activities temporarily.
As such, the pattern of living has shifted significantly, which will no doubt affect life as we know it even in the post Covid – 19 era.
Since the index case was identified in Nigeria, measures have been implemented including lockdown of some states, provision of palliatives for the citizens, social distancing, travel ban and public enlightenment and so on.
Different sectors of the Nigerian economy have been affected by the upsurge of Covid – 19 cases; amongst them is the tourism sector because it thrives basically on the influx of people.
Also, heritage buildings and sites which happens to be a major component of the tourism sector is left redundant as it is impossible for operations to continue normally with the current ban on travels and social gathering in place.
Heritage buildings are iconic structures with architectural, religious, political, cultural and economic significances which attract tourists from different places to the country and beyond.
Its benefits are multi-faceted as it offers economic, socio-cultural and environmental benefits and as such; it should be put to sustainable use in order to maximise its potentials.
Some of the notable heritage building and sites in Nigeria are; Susan Wenger’s Osun – Osogbo groove, Erin – Ijesha waterfalls, National Arts Theatre, National Museum and Cocoa House amongst many others.
According to National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report in 2017, tourism sector accounted for 34% of GDP in Nigeria and about 20% of the nation’s employment creation.
Such a sector with immense contribution to national GDP should not be relegated because of a pandemic.
Additionally, it is not strategic to shut down the operations of our heritage buildings and tourist sites for the sake of a pandemic that is not time bound.
This raises some critical questions: Do we simply wait till the pandemic ends, no matter how long it takes? Are there safer alternative pathways for the tourism industry? We believe the answer lies in taking advantage of technology.
As part of response to COVID- 19, almost all activities have been switched to online mode. For instance, schools have been conducting lectures online, religious organisations holding online services, online shopping, online business meetings, online medical consultations etc. If these sectors are going virtual, why not tourism?
Virtual Tourism is the way
Virtual reality involves the use of 3D environment that can be navigated and interacted with, so much that there is a real-time simulation of some of the users’ senses; such as sight, hearing and possibly other senses.
This environment is often referred to as virtual environment. Thus, by navigating one could move around and explore this virtual environment, and by interacting one could make a choice of locations, objects etc. within the environment (Vince, 2004).
For virtual reality system to function there is a need for input devices designed to interpret users’ actions and cause the Virtual environment to respond accordingly (Burdea & Coiffet, 2003).
Virtual reality is already been engaged in the tourism industry, in that many tourist centres and hotels attract tourists through the internet, where virtual tours of sites have been used to attract people to the actual site. It can be taken further by expanding this experience for Nigerian heritage sites
The sites and objects can be rendered as 3D models with extremely precise data sets, useful for permanent storage purposes.
These models unlike sites and objects are also resistant to degradations from obsolescence, erosion etc. and can be useful for tracking information about the original sites, histories, monitoring defects as well as providing a means of maintenance and restoration, thus being used also for conservation purposes in addition to offering the experience in a manner that obeys existing public health protocols.
For instance, the Lagos National Museum can be put on virtual platforms – for a token fee – to encourage tourists globally to visit the museum without having to travel down physically.
Historical sites such as Idanre hill, Olumo rock etc. can be photographed and animated in like manner, in addition to documenting the history and features, which may become useful reminders of the sites original state in the event of disaster.
Introducing activities like virtual narratives, games, question and answer segments could make the virtual tour sessions more realistic and engaging.
Virtual tourism would help showcase the heritage of Nigeria in a better perspective globally. The benefit of Virtual tourism transcends beyond the COVID- 19 pandemic era as it can also be adopted concurrently with physical tourism during the post COVID-19 pandemic era.
Vince, J. (2004). Introduction to virtual reality. New York: Springer.
Premium times newspaper. https://www.premiumtimesng.com/. Accessed on 25th April, 2020.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development or the University of Lagos, Nigeria.