The American multinational technology firm Google’s Arts and Culture Division is joining with UNESCO and other international partners to improve access to education around cultural and natural heritage with a new online resource, Explore UNESCO World Heritage.
With this partnership, Google and UNESCO aim to cover more than a thousand World Heritage sites as a virtual globetrotting tour of cultural landmarks and places of natural beauty. The new online resource will be available from World Heritage Day (18th April) onwards.
The coronavirus pandemic and the lockdowns linked to it have limited access to heritage sites and other historical places of interest. “In this spirit, UNESCO is working to offer alternative ways to facilitate access to cultural heritage during the COVID-19 pandemic and build new ways to share culture in the future,” Google stated in its blog.
Among the areas and sites covered by the initiative are ancient pilgrimage routes in Northern Spain, France’s canals, Mount Kilimanjaro, volcanoes in South Korea, and whales in Mexico, Google said.
According to Google, 40 percent of the tourism market is centered around culture and heritage, while international tourists had reduced by 75 percent last year compared to 2019. This resulted in a $4.1billion loss in royalties to artists and creators due to closed concert halls, theatres, bookstores and cinemas.
Apart from the airline industry, culture is likely one of the sectors most affected by COVID-19. According to the International Council of Museums (ICOM), 90 percent of museums were shut down due to the pandemic and 10 percent of them may never reopen.
While a virtual experience may serve, for the time being, Google hasn’t specified if the resources will be made available online forever. “We shall travel again. In the meantime, we hope it will nevertheless enable users to immerse themselves in the beauty of our world and inspire action to protect it,’ the blog post says.