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Live-streamed safaris, sunsets and 'virtual small group tours' bring travel to stay-at-homers

Tour operators and destinations are finding creative ways to entertain us, and stay front-of-mind for future trips, Pól Ó Conghaile reports

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An African elephant crossing the plains of the Serengeti

An African elephant crossing the plains of the Serengeti

Getty Images

Florence skyline, including the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. Photo: Getty

Florence skyline, including the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. Photo: Getty

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An African elephant crossing the plains of the Serengeti

Fancy a flying trip to Florence from the comfort of your couch?

What about a cocktail as 'Magic Hour' descends on Los Angeles, or a back-seat on a sunset or sunrise safari drive in South Africa?

We may not be able to travel just now, but that doesn't mean we can't get a taste of future trips - thanks to increasingly innovative tourism marketing efforts being staged during lockdown.

Today, G Adventures' first virtual small group tour "departs" at 5pm GMT.

The destination is Italy, where local guide Stefano Paris will take 16 Zoom video callers through Venice, Tuscany and even a football match in the space of an hour.

The "travellers" will receive food and drink pairing recommendations in advance, “meet” other participants in a live Zoom room, and can interact with their guide in real time.

"This is as close as people can get to an actual G Adventures trip, without opening their passports," says the tour operator, which also plans virtual travel experiences in places like Guatemala, Argentina and Vietnam, led by local experts utilising Google Maps and photos.

“We hope that our new Virtual Travel Experiences will continue to fuel travellers’ curiosity and desire to see the world when the time is right, ”says Lauren Michell of G Adventures.

Meanwhile, luxury travel company andBeyond is streaming daily sunrise (5am GMT) and sunset (8pm GMT) safari drives live from South Africa's Ngala and Djuma Private Game Reserves.

The drives, broadcast by WildEarth, see game drivers talk viewers through the experience and sights, answering questions as they go.

Tour operators and tourism marketers have struggled to remain relevant as Covid-19 spreads. But there have been creative efforts to strike a balance between sensitivity and keeping travel front of mind - if not for short-term bookings, at least to inspire and plan future trips.

Failte Ireland's Discover Ireland website firmly encourages visitors to stay at home, for example, while sharing suggestions for live cultural events and virtual gallery tours to experience online.

In Portugal, an uplifting ‘Can’t Skip Hope’ video plays on a previous 'Can't Skip Portugal' campaign, with a solid message to stay home.

As communities around the world closed due to Covid-19 lockdowns, an initial wave of "virtual trips" largely focused on tours of museums, galleries, national parks and even wildlife cams.

A second wave, however, have evolved to provide a much richer range of often live experiences.

Every evening at 6.30pm PST, for example, Destination LA has been convening sundowner parties on social media based around the #MagicHour hashtag and a live stream of the fabled Los Angeles sunset.

"Magic Hour" is the evening window when California slips into twilight, and the marketing organisation is using it to offer virtual location tours, themed playlists, photo tips, recipes and more.

Travel is on hold for now, but the company has an upbeat message.

"It's always Magic Hour in LA," it says.

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