The UK’s best virtual tours, from London’s East End to an exploration of beautiful Bath


Virtual tours by professional guides are the new frontier of travel – and here are some of the UK’s best, from one that roams London’s East End to an exploration of beautiful Bath

  • Pepe Martinez  has reimagined his themed walking tours of London 
  • Fred Mawer is developing new, themed walking tours around Bath
  • Emma Fox is planning virtual tours of Worsley ahead of RHS Garden Bridgewater

We’re all missing our favourite travel experiences. But some hard-working tourist guides have found a solution by reinventing their craft to embrace evolving technology.

The age of vaccine passports and £1,750 hotel quarantine bills has led to the rise of the virtual tour — and it’s here to stay.

As we mark International Tourist Guide Day on February 21, celebrating guides as cultural ambassadors for their home regions, virtual tours have become more than just a stopgap to relieve pent-up travel demand.

Hard-working tourist guides have reinventing their craft to embrace evolving technology

Whether desk based, or on the streets, this is the new frontier of travel.

London Blue Badge holder Pepe Martinez (londontourguidepepe.co.uk) was an early adopter, reimagining his themed walking tours, such as London’s old East End and Street Art, for a locked-down audience last spring. He has since trained over 400 guides in technology-enhanced guiding skills.

‘I’ve guided more people in the past year than I had in the past ten,’ he says. Pepe envisages he will work with smaller groups in the future and make increased use of phone apps to allow for social distancing.

He has already experimented with live-remote tours, such as broadcasting from a museum. ‘While virtual tours can’t recreate the experience of face-to-face tours, clients have embraced the unique level of connectivity and interactivity, especially for people who can’t leave home,’ he says.

Another convert is Bath-based Fred Mawer (fredmawertours.co.uk), a Blue Badge Guide for the South West of England. Fred, who is developing new, themed walking tours around Bath, sees them as teasers to entice potential clients. ‘I can bounce people around locations or zoom in on unique details, enhancing the experience for my clients,’ he says.

He has also found new practical applications such as conducting virtual tours around the Bath University campus to prospective international students. ‘Even when so-called normality returns, I expect to see sustained demand for virtual tours.’

Fred Mawer, a Blue Badge Guide for the South West of England, is developing new, themed walking tours around Bath

Fred Mawer, a Blue Badge Guide for the South West of England, is developing new, themed walking tours around Bath

Emma Fox of Manchester Guided Tours (manchesterguidedtours.com) has welcomed a new way of thinking about her tours. ‘I keep it concise — 45 minutes with a Q&A — and I use strong visuals plus Google Maps and Street View to add value,’ says Emma, who is planning virtual tours of Worsley village in advance of the opening of RHS Garden Bridgewater (rhs.org.uk/gardens/bridgewater) in May.

There will, of course, always be a place for the eye-to-eye contact of guides. Indeed, the Institute of Tourist Guiding (ITG) recently launched a voucher scheme to gift a tour to friends and family once restrictions ease (britainsbestguides.org/voucher).

Tour guiding was due a shake-up. I had started training as a Green Badge Guide to Chester and North Wales, combining my love of storytelling with street-level knowledge of my Roman-heritage home patch.

But I’ve also embraced technology to develop a VoiceMap audio tour, Haunted Chester, which will soon be available to download to smartphones (voicemap.me).

So maybe it’s time to retire the giant follow-me umbrella once and for all. 

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