During the UK’s initial lockdown, I received an email from my son’s elementary school with a list of webcams we might like to check out. We particularly enjoyed observing and identifying the animals at a specific African watering hole that we were able to observe live online.
I continued to explore this world of location-based live streaming webcams which I had previously overlooked. I was fascinated by those who focused on city centers and revealed largely deserted urban landscapes. I left nature cams and coastal web cameras open on my PC monitor to distract myself when working from home. They offered me a portal to the outside world when, like so many others, I was trapped inside.
I suspected that I wasn’t alone in my virtual journeys. Indeed, the media soon described a massive increase in the use of these webcams. At Edinburgh Zoo, webcam views increased from around 100,000 to 5 million per month. As a tourism expert, I wanted to research this further. I completed a questionnaire and heard from 227 members of the public about their experiences traveling with webcams.
Some had used webcam travel for years to reconnect with nature. One respondent described the appeal of his favorite webcam in an eagle’s nest:
I enjoy watching the eggs hatch and watching the eagles ripen in spring, learn to fly and leave the next. I find it a nice antidote to the urban environment in which I live and work.
Respondents found webcam travel relaxing, especially when it came to nature and wildlife. “I feel calm and relaxed when I’m stressed or anxious.” Coastal scenes were also very popular. One person told me:
Before the lockdown, I’ve always found that looking out to sea is relaxing. I really miss walking along the coast. Watching the waves help me feel more connected to the outside world and remind me of what’s waiting when it’s safe to venture out again.
One thing these reports revealed was the importance of the vivid and unfiltered nature of webcam travel: “It helps to keep in touch with places and things that I like. Watch too Real time You almost feel like you do [you are] There. “The living nature of the experience seemed to encourage a sense of connection.
The places that are virtually visited via these mostly static webcams are varied, numerous and are becoming increasingly popular. Wildlife, coastal scenes, city centers, zoos, aquariums, and landscapes are all favorites.
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This surge in popularity isn’t surprising given the events of 2020. This year, our freedoms have been restricted in ways that most people have never experienced. In this context, webcam travel is a way to connect with nature and nature.
The Brockholes Nature Reserve in Lancashire informed me that they had seen 850 views from their two nature cameras in February 2020, but two months later, in April, that number had risen to 13,917 – an increase of 1,537%. SkylineWebcams now has more than 1,000 location-based webcams around the world showing city centers, heritage sites and a variety of resorts. In May they told me that they too had seen a huge surge in the popularity of their webcams and said:
With the spread of COVID-19, our website has actually seen an increase in numbers, from an average of 70 million monthly page views to 120 million in March. Webcams definitely played an interesting role during the lockdown. They have connected individuals with both distant countries and areas of their own cities that they would normally attend on a daily basis.
My research supported these reports: I found that nearly a third of respondents tried webcam travel for the first time during the lockdown, and 64% viewed webcams for longer than normal. 69% said they were more likely to physically visit places they viewed on webcams once restrictions were lifted.
Webcam trips therefore provide tourism organizations with a relatively inexpensive way to connect with visitors when recovery is on the horizon. 90% of the respondents felt connected to the place or nature and 83% felt more positive after traveling with the webcam.
Of the two-thirds who tended to view webcams from places they knew before they were locked, 83% said the experience brought back happy memories. One wrote on his favorite Arnside webcam: “A beautiful and unspoilt place in Cumbria – every time I look it brings back very fond memories of nice visits.” Nostalgia can ward off negative feelings such as loneliness, boredom and stress . This provides refuge from the challenges, fears, and frustrations associated with being locked out.
Many webcams are subject to natural outdoor environments or wildlife. Environmental psychology offers insights that explain this stimulus. Exposure to natural environments has been shown to provide health-related benefits associated with positive feelings such as calm, refreshment, and enjoyment. Even exposure to images of natural surroundings can be linked to mood restoration.
In 2020, webcam travel offers a sense of control over our movements so that we can exercise our freedom – at least virtually, if not physically. However, the experience is uplifting. It appears to be relaxing and mood-enhancing at a time when there are widespread mental health concerns. It offers an unfiltered experience that complements and supports the connection to place and nature.
As our freedom of movement continues to be restricted due to COVID-19, traveling with the webcam appears to continue. This may seem depressing to some, but webcam travel isn’t just a way to deal with escape or nostalgia: it allows you to connect to places we know or want to explore sometime in 2021.
Such imaginative trips can allow us to look to a more positive future. It also offers the tourism sector an opportunity to connect with its customers when considering how to relax. And connecting with nature, albeit virtual, isn’t a bad thing for us, the wildlife charities sharing their nature cameras, or the planet.
This article by David Jarratt, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management at the University of Central Lancashire, is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.