Waterloo Region Tourism offering virtual tour before physical experience

Waterloo Region Tourism offering virtual tour before physical experience

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Published on : Monday, September 27, 2021

Waterloo Region Tourism

A new pilot project underway between Stratford production company Ballinran Entertainment and Waterloo Region Tourism is giving would-be tourists the chance to explore sights and attractions before ever setting foot in the region.

Thanks to the recent purchase of a Cinema 360 camera using funding provided last year through Communitech’s Digital Main Street program, executive producer Craig Thompson said his team has been able to shoot and produce immersive, virtual tours of many of the Waterloo Region’s tourism experiences, including tubing at Chicopee Ski & Summer Resort, a horse-and-buggy ride through Mennonite country and a walk through uptown Waterloo and downtown Kitchener with Stroll Walking Tours.

“We are a company that travels all over the world to shoot documentaries and we are basically stuck here in the region during the pandemic testing new technology,” Thompson said. “We got a grant through Digital Main Street to do a partnership with Waterloo Region Tourism with a new, high-end Cinema camera that we purchased from China. It’s a 360-degree, 8K Cinema camera.

“It’s a fun toy, and basically what we’re doing is, if you can imagine the gaming industry, we’re taking people into the world of virtual exploration. When you’re in a game, you can move around and explore your universe. Well, we’re doing that with real-world tourism experiences.”

As virtual tourists embark on the tours filmed by the Ballinran crew, Thompson said they will have the ability to use their mouse and keyboard, smart device or virtual-reality headset to look around their virtual environment and get a sense of what the real experience might be like.

“You are walking with the camera in the virtual experience, on the trip, and you can move your head around 360 (degrees), up and down, sideways, back. You can’t control the pace of walking, but you can be there experiencing it, looking around and feeling what it’s like to be on a Mennonite buggy, for instance, or to be tubing down the tube run at Chicopee,” Thompson said.

“It’s a virtual experience and it’s the first step. The next step is to make the virtual experience interactive. So if you see a store or something on the street, you can click on it and learn more about that particular item.”

While the virtual tours don’t yet allow the viewers to move around on their own, that will ultimately be a goal of the project as it continues to expand, giving virtual tourists the freedom to explore as much or as little as they like.

“It’s not meant to replace the actual, in-person experience. It’s meant as a marketing extension of the tourism destination,” Thompson said. “It’s ideal for a destination. For example, a museum might want to choose part of its exhibit to have people sample the museum before they come see it in person. It could also work for an Art Gallery or a restaurant, even, where you’re learning about the menu and you’re in the kitchen with the chef.”

While this type of virtual tourism is ideal for people looking to explore the Waterloo Region while travel is restricted during COVID-19 pandemic, Thompson said the project will outlive the pandemic as a marketing tool meant to help potential visitors decide how they would like to spend their time in the region.

The Waterloo Region Tourism virtual tour videos will be available through YouTube once they’re released.

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