Digital solutions helped 3 Belarusian nature reserves to become accessible and inclusive

Virtual tours have been developed for three Belarusian nature reserves, which have already been visited by 20,000 people.

September 27, 2022

"Asviejski" nature reserve, Du Island, Viciebsk region, Belarus

Photo: Dmitry Lasko/UNDP Belarus

Smart-solutions for rethinking tourism

Within the recent 3 years, the tourism sector around the world has faced especially difficult period – the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected the tourism and travel field and drastically decreased the flow of tourists. In these conditions, the smart technologies contributing to the digitalization of tourism business have paid a special role and allowed the travel industry to cope with the crisis challenges. Thanks to the digital solutions, tourism which was among the hardest hit sectors by the pandemic, has not only managed to rebuild better and more sustainable in the post-COVID world but also has demonstrated strong growth.

Virtual tourism has become especially popular and in demand and proved to be one of the most effective ways of rebuilding tourism and travel field after the COVID-19 pandemic. Augmented, virtual and mixed reality technologies, which can offer alternative ways to travel the world and new models for the industry, have helped tourism to enter the post-COVID era in a renewed shape.

Virtual tours also make tourism more inclusive, providing  people with disabilities and limited mobility, as well as low-budget tourists for whom visiting nature destinations can  be problematic a chance to travel online, to take a “walk” and enjoy the attractions of tourist destinations in a virtual format.

Breath taking view on the Ozery Nature Reserve in Hrodna region, Belarus

Photo: Dmitry Lasko/UNDP Belarus

Belarusian reserves pioneering environmental tourism in a virtual format

At the beginning of 2022, three Belarusian nature reserves – “Nalibokski", “Aziory” and "Asviejski" – got digital solutions from the project on ecotourism development implemented by UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of Belarus. The attractions of these reserves can now be visited in online format thanks to the newly-developed virtual tours with the interfaces presented in three languages – Belarusian, Russian and English. The virtual tours are available at the web portals representing the unique protected natural areas – the websites of the “Nalibokski" and “Aziory” reserves and the tourism platform suggesting the virtual tour over the "Asviejski" reserve.

With the help of any digital devices – smartphones, tablets or laptops, virtual reality glasses or helmets – Belarusian and foreign tourists can virtually get acquainted with forests and lakes, explore the uninhabited Du island and the habitats of wild animals, including the European bison, choose a fishing place, tourist campsides, cycling routes or an eco-trail. All these can be done from both “ground” and “bird-eye” views.

Since the launch of this smart solution at the beginning of 2022, the 3D-tours have already been “visited” by almost 20,000 virtual tourists, many of whom have come to the reserves after taking the virtual tours.

Tourists can plan their trips in more detail – all the tours are accompanied with the function of interactive navigation maps based on the OpenStreetMap service. Now the virtual tours cover more than 100 aerial and land panoramas in total with spring-summer and autumn-winter views. Moreover, all the 3D panoramas are accompanied by soft music, can be zoomed in and out, which makes virtual trips more comfortable and interactive.

Interactive tours will contribute to the promotion of the unique natural potential of Belarus and the development of ecological tourism on the specially protected natural areas.. In the long-term perspective, ecotourism will bring economic benefits to the specially protected natural areas and will allow to invest the revenues generated from tourism products in further preservation and improvement of the management of the protected areas.

* The project “Ecotourism Development to Promote Green Transition to Inclusive and Sustainable Growth” is implemented by UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of Belarus with financial support from the Russian Federation