Digital Documentation and Augmented Reality bringing continuity of Culture and Tourism in the time of Social distancing – By Nishant Upadhyay and Pankaj Manchanda

With the increasing demographic spread of the CoVID-19 pandemic, the world is currently facing an acute disruption on global scale. This disruption apart from being of health, well being and economy, is also creating a serious disconnect on the cultural front. As per a recent global survey by UNESCO, at this point, 89% of the world heritage sites are completely or partially closed. The disrupt has also led to cancelling of cultural performances and festivals, hitting the artist sector very hard. It has caused immense economical setback to the tourism industry too, which will take a while, before it can be back to normal.

To cope up with that, countries like Germany, Mexico, Spain are mustering support packages for the culture sector professionals, while other countries like South Korea and Australia are giving away fiscal or loan repayment relaxations for artists and cultural institutions. Ministry of Culture, Government of India has announced, in an international meeting for the cultural ministries around the world, that they are largely focusing on digital media platforms and other digital means to allow a certain level of continuity for the culture sector.

Various libraries are putting up their digital content for free access to public. These efforts go in sync with other plans of central government like Digital India and efficiently uses the existing infrastructure. And several public bodies and civic societies are also brainstorming to how to build resilience of the cultural and tourism industries via digital means.

Large part of economy, funding and support for cultural industries comes from tourism and the advent of technological innovations in cultural heritage tourism promises to offer multi-fold benefits across stakeholder segments. At the premise, the adoption of Augmented/Virtual Reality technology has facilitated necessary detailed documentation and recording of cultural traditions and the associated heritage. This process has a huge benefit because it facilitates ‘Digital Archiving and Recording’ of the rich myriad traditions and cultures across the globe. The digital repositories could help minimize dilution, deterioration, or loss of our tangible and intangible heritage, which is specifically under threat in the current volatile global climate resulting from natural, economic and political unrest. This crucial task thus can help us preserve our diverse Culture, Traditions and Heritage for our future generations.

Rai Praveen Bagh in Orchha, Aerial photogrammetry, LIDAR, Madhya Pradesh, Orchha, MP Tourism, Incredible India,

Image: Rai Praveen Bagh in Orchha created by using aerial photogrammetry. © DHARATAL & INTACH Belgium.

The way these digital repositories and data have changed the accessibility to cultural heritage is a global change phenomenon in itself. Now the digital archives are preferred input to curating interactive interpretations of built heritage and museums for travelers visiting a region, even remotely. From being a “black mirror” episode, visiting a heritage site, or a museum on a different continent, or exploring a new culture sitting at your home has evolved as a ‘New Reality’.  And this reality is already being practiced by institutions like The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities where they are providing virtual tours to people every day during these times of lock-down and social distancing.

A few use cases to refer in context include Google Arts and Culture; Google Expeditions; Real Cast; Jinsha Site Museum experience; Apple Maps – Flyover mode; HoloMaps; The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; etc. These platforms offer some very relevant and engaging interpretations for all audience segments (including travelers with special needs).

Augtraveler; Humayun's Tomb; Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Augmented Reality, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sundar Nursery, Incredible India, Delhi Tourism

Image: Augmented reality Model of the Taj Mahal at Humayun’s tomb complex, Delhi. Highlighting the design influences of the tomb on the Taj. © AUGTRAVELER.

Furthermore, mobile enabled AR applications are an ideal technology to highlight authentic cultural experiences. The travelers can now opt to go for curated self-guided heritage and cultural trails using their mobile devices at their own convenience. AR along with Geo location and tagging can help connect host communities directly to travelers, thereby building on their travel experience by focusing on authentic cultural environments, local arts, crafts, culinary delights, etc.. This engagement can help travelers buy local authentic products and services directly from the host communities, thereby facilitating evolution of a micro-level socio-economic ecosystem, which promotes a ‘sustainable livelihood’ model.

On a global scale such digital information can be used for education and also sustainable development making international networking programs like UNESCO Creative Cities Network, even more pivotal in conserving the local cultural and creative industries, in alignment with UN SDG 2030 goals. Although one can’t deny that the accessibility to digital world still remains a challenge in many parts of the world, especially developing nations and we need to work towards providing easy access to network to all, to make these programs successful. An interesting concluding point to ponder in the post CoVID era could be how all stakeholders in the culture and tourism fraternity could work together and adopt technology which can help building more sustainable and resilient models for cultural heritage conservation and the related tourism.


About the authors:

  1. Nishant Upadhyay is a conservation architect and founder of a, community-oriented design atelier called Dharatal. He is also an international heritage expert for UNESCO Dhaka office and has been involved in LIDAR documentation projects for state governments of India and INTACH Belgium chapter.
  2. Pankaj Manchanda is the founder of Augtraveler, a new age Technology Startup which focuses on preservation and promotion of World Heritage and Culture in alignment of UN SDGs 11, 8 and 4 while making ‘Culture and Heritage Accessible to All’.




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