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The year of virtual travel: the benefits of exploring the world through webcams

The year of virtual travel: the benefits of exploring the world through webcams

The year of virtual travel: the benefits of exploring the world through webcams

The places which are visited virtually, through these predominantly static webcams, are varied, numerous and increasingly popular

 

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David Jarratt, University of Central Lancashire

During the first UK lockdown I received an email from my son’s primary school with a list of webcams we might enjoy having a look at. We particularly enjoyed watching and identifying the animals at a particular African watering hole that we could watch, live, online.

I continued exploring this world of live-streamed place-based webcams, something I had previously overlooked. I was fascinated by those focusing on city centres, which revealed largely deserted urban landscapes. I left nature-cams and coastal webcams open on my PC monitor as welcome distractions as I worked from home. They offered me a portal to the outside world, when I, like so many others, was trapped inside.

I suspected I was not alone in my virtual travels. Indeed, the media soon described a massive upsurge in the usage of these webcams. Edinburgh Zoo saw its webcam views surge from about 100,000 to 5 million per month. As an expert in tourism, I wanted to explore this further. I set up a questionnaire and heard from 227 members of the public about their experiences travelling through webcams.

Some had used webcam-travel for years, as a way to connect to nature. One respondent described the appeal of his favourite webcam at an eagle’s nest:

I enjoy watching the eggs hatch and observing the eaglets mature over springtime, learning to fly, and leaving the next. I find it a nice antidote to the urban environment in which I live and work.

Respondents found webcam-travel relaxing, especially when the subject was nature and wildife – “It makes me feel calm and relaxed when I’m stressed or feeling anxious”. Coastal scenes were also very popular. One person told me:

I always found, in the time before the lockdown, looking at the sea to be relaxing. I really miss walking by the coast. Watching the waves helps me to feel more connected with the outside world and reminds of me what is waiting once it is safe to venture out once more.

One thing that these accounts revealed was the importance of the live and unfiltered nature of webcam-travel: “It helps to keep in touch with places and things I like. Also watching in real-time makes you feel almost as if [you are] there.” The live nature of the experience seemed to facilitate a sense of connection.

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