These virtual tours try to bring families separated by borders closer together at a time when international travel is still restricted due to COVID-19
The Pyramids of Giza glint under the sharp afternoon sun.
At 33 degrees Celsius, it is a hot day to go exploring the ancient ruins. Khaled Ali, our guide, hops out and takes us closer to the three monuments while giving us more information about The Great Pyramid. Next, we head to the Sphinx. It makes for an arresting sight; all those images in travel brochures and websites do not quite do it justice.
Meanwhile, my phone buzzes and I get back to work. Yes, I am very much in Chennai and the lockdown is still on, but the cool thing is I just spent an hour in Giza — thanks to virtual tours. While there are several such tours available online, Tour HQ offers experiences that are delivered live from the city streets. “These are also tours by locals and with locals,” says Gaurav Kumar, who co-founded the company with Vandana Om Kumar in 2012.
Family get together
Each tour has a guide based in the city a client chooses. He/she then takes the client around town, introducing them to new cultures, sights and surroundings. The whole session happens over a Zoom call; to maintain one-on-one interactions the participants are capped at 10 per session, explains Gaurav.
When the pandemic hit, travel came to a standstill and there were wide-scale cancellations. “Our guides, in particular, were badly hit and fell through the social security nets put up by governments around the world,” says Gaurav. But he knew local lockdowns would be lifted much before international tourism is allowed to resume. “We felt that there would be a significant period of time when guides will be able to roam around their cities but travellers could not or would not travel. That is how the idea to go virtual and engage the guides to help them make a living came about.”
With people constantly on the lookout for new activities to try out as a family, this is a segment that is having its moment in the sun. “Clients are gifting these tours for birthdays and anniversaries. Around 70-80% of the orders we get are friends or families doing this as a social activity,” says Gaurav.
One of the most recent get togethers was a 75th birthday party where family members joined in from Singapore, the US and the UK for a tour of Giza. The guide got camel herders to sing Happy Birthday and write the celebrant’s name in hieroglyphics. For a lot of people, at this point, the most important thing is the feeling of being connected and doing things together. Gaurav feels this is one way of doing it.
Tours start at $9. For details, log on to www.tourhq.com