Settlement Guide

Travel in isolation

Source: Getty Images/Luxy Images

With Australian domestic tourism down $21.7 billion compared to last year, 2020 is like no other in the tourism world. But if your travel plans have been disrupted, technological advancements may now enable the world to come direct to you.

Highlights 

  • Virtual reality is entering residential aged care facilities around Australia to provide an immersive travel experience. 
  • Domestic tourism went down by $21.7 billion in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. 
  • Those who can still travel prefer shorter trips near home and medical facilities. 

Recent data from Tourism Research Australia found that domestic tourism slumped by $21.7 billion in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period last year. 

The impact is sorely felt by travel operators such as Queensland tour guide Marzena Clarke, also a diversional therapist, who mostly work with older Polish-speaking clients with underlying health conditions. 

They might have anxiety about coronavirus. What they are trying to do is basically staying close to home, staying close to emergency and hospitals.

While overseas or interstate travels was halted by travel restrictions and border closures, some of Clarke’s clients are instead opting for shorter trips closer to home and medical facilities. 

She notices how an older person’s mood can brighten up after a few hours away from home. 

They still want to get out of the house because, obviously, it drives them a little bit crazy sitting at home all the time but they are quite happy to go just for a half a day tour or a day to the beach or to a park.

Old lady looking out window
Getty Images/LaraBelova
 

But not everyone can afford to get out for fresh air, especially seniors whose mobility were already limited prior to COVID-19. 

Bayside University of the Third Age (U3A) has been offering armchair travel courses for nearly a decade. Its president Tony Aplin has taught the class in person and does so online.

He says students who are not travelling anymore through age, ill health or other circumstances, compile one to two hours of presentation of their photos or videos from previous trips around the world and present to the class. 

They get quite a vicarious thrill to see holidays of parts of the world that maybe they’ve been to themselves or would’ve like to have been to.

Aplin admits that video conferencing software is not for everyone, even if they have the capacity to use platforms such as Zoom, popularised around the world by COVID-19 restrictions. 

A clear piece of evidence is a drop of one third of the class size compared to pre-COVID-19 times. 

We don’t have the same social interaction as going to the class and being able to have a cup of coffee with people and chat.

Some are experiencing a more immersive travel experience in virtual reality (VR) at residential aged care facilities through a headset that places the user within their chosen setting. 

Angkor Wot
AAP Image/AP Photo/Heng Sinith
 

Melbourne technology start-up SilVR Adventures began offering this experience to aged care facilities last year.

Its CEO Colin Pudsey explains that while this technology may need a bit of getting used to, the 360-degree setting allows users to explore places of significance in the past or new locations they would have liked to visit. 

Pudsey says the world is delivered to the users through virtual reality where they can explore the world, landmarks, nature, music, the arts, adventures and experiences like African safaris, swim with dolphin, hot air balloon rides, skiing and surfing as if they are in a movie. 

It’s very immersive when they visit these places so they really do feel like they are there.

Pudsey admits that virtual reality experiences are unlikely to replace actual travelling but he does see it as a useful tool to break down the physical barriers and obstacles of isolation that existed even prior to the coronavirus pandemic. 

He remembers that an elderly aged care resident who lived only 10 km away from the Yarra River was in tears when the memories of her husband, a former Australian Olympic rower, training on the river came flooding back. 

She hadn’t been there in number of years. That’s something you don’t realise the true level of isolation that a lot of seniors feel.

SilVR at aged care
Supplied
 

In the case of Monash University’s Visualising Angkor project, sensiLab’s Dr Thomas Chandler explains that users can even travel back in time in an animated virtual experience of the world’s largest religious monument by land area in the medieval times. 

You are journeying into the historical imagination. It’s certainly a real change from the real world.

A 2016 survey found that just over a quarter of Australian retailers planned to adopt VR within the next 12 months but it also found that over half of the business leaders surveyed did not have a mobile app or mobile website. 

Dr Chandler questions the ability for general users, including baby boomers, to widely use the technology which needs to run on a powerful computer accompanied by high internet speed to stream 360-degree videos. 

There is a lot of people using the internet, quite a lot but the steps to kind of put on a virtual reality headset is something else.

Whatever travel method works for you amid COVID-19, Clarke believes that the simple act of getting out of the house is extremely important for one’s mental wellbeing. 

People are sort of stuck at home. They are watching news which would be quite negative most of the time about coronavirus. They feel safe at home but it’s same routine.

Joggers Yarra River
AAP Image/James Ross

Research by National Seniors Australia found that in 2019, 70 per cent of their members aged between 50 to their 90s use an internet search engine everyday whilst 40 per cent use Facebook daily. 

Clarke encourages more older people to embrace technology to experience the world from home amid health concerns and travel restrictions. 

Even if they stay at home they can sort of enjoy a virtual experience but travelling has definitely changed quite a lot.

Call the Be Connected helpline on 1300 795 897 or visit beconnected.esafety.gov.au for free information on how to use the internet. 

To access an interpreter, ring the Translating and Interpreting Service on 13 14 50 first to be redirected to your preferred organisation in your language.