21 July 2019
A story about a person, place or an event can be told in a more realistic, deeply felt and meaningful manner with the use of virtual reality. Photo: Reuters
A story about a person, place or an event can be told in a more realistic, deeply felt and meaningful manner with the use of virtual reality. Photo: Reuters

How VR can boost tourism by revitalizing forgotten sites

Every town and city around the world has scores of monuments, whether to heroes, famous past personalities, or events. But oftentimes, if the inhabitants have forgotten why those monuments were erected, the tendency is to take those for granted. It is common in many places for these forgotten monuments to become places of urban blight, sometimes attracting the homeless.

If a monument has a forgotten story to tell, and it has not done so successfully, then urban blight is one possibility. If the untold story is especially good, then it is a waste of tourist potential for the town or city. That’s good tourist cash flow down the drain. If Hollywood or a famous novel decides to pick up the story behind the monument, such as in the case of some World War II monuments, then that’s good.

In their New York Times bestseller, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive And Others Die, co-authors Chip and Dan Heath identify several factors that make ideas (and in our case, places) stand out in people’s minds. One of the key factors, according to the Heath brothers, is the presence of a compelling story.

Humans are hardwired for stories. The advertising industry realized this and used afternoon radio and television dramas to sell soap, hence the term soap opera. The fact that Aesop’s fables, like The Fox and the Grapes, have survived for thousands of years just reminds us that good stories, especially in this age of social media, do get passed around.

So if no one is telling your story, no one will visit your area. Period.

But what about monuments with great stories to tell that haven’t been properly told yet. Aside from books and films, which can get the visitors to come, another great way to tell the story to the visitors who are already at the monument itself, is to merge stage plays with special effects or even virtual reality.

Companies into VR, such as Oculus, or even defense companies like Dassault, are some of the groups experimentally venturing into this arena.

Aristotle wrote the Poetics as a guide to how good dramatic theatre should be done. A good stage play does not require expensive sets, but only good actors and actresses to convey the human drama behind a story. Successful plays often succeed in making the audience suspend their disbelief, and they are carried into the story, even without expensive sets.

But to take it a step further, adding sets and special effects adds to the realism. For example, some air cannons or speakers might be able to somewhat recreate the feeling of being in a naval bombardment. Where dialogue and human action is not enough to tell a part of the story, then special effects, fancy sets, and other extras can go a long way.

Towns and cities who wish to stand out from their competitors in terms of attracting tourists to visit them and their monuments should remember that good stories form part of their brand. It is what attracts tourists to choose them over others.

Spending on better storytelling, be it in terms of books, films, or even stage plays and special effects, will definitely pay off in terms of tourist dollars.

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Philippines based author, columnist and playwright

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