Virtual Tours: Good, Better, Best

Virtual Tours

Virtual tours allow people to see something they can’t see in person, providing a unique opportunity to reach a virtual audience. A successful virtual tour is engaging, interesting, and user friendly. A good tour can turn virtual visitors into real life patrons, while a bad tour might turn them away forever. A can be part of a marketing campaign and brand building strategy.

Here are 3 virtual tours that use audio in different ways:

Good: US Botanical Garden

The US Botanical Gardens has created a visually stunning 360 degree tour of their facility, shot with a high quality camera. Each room at the gardens is fashioned around a particular environment of the facility, like the desert or the Mid-Atlantic Region. Visitors can turn around the rooms and see flowers, cacti, tree-tops, and clear blue sky.  


  • High Quality, Beautiful
  • Some areas, like buildings or certain plants, can be clicked on for more information 


  • You can’t read any of the physical exhibit text, like the cards that identify the plants. There is no direction to get more information from inside the tour, and it may be unavailable all together. 
  • There is no audio, either integrated into the tour or on another part of the webpage. You can read an informative sidebar while looking at pictures, but the experience ends there.
  • The tour is one you zoom through pretty quickly.  It’s a beautiful place, but because there is little content other than the visual, you don’t stay around very long. 

This tour might be useful for someone currently planning a visit to the National Botanical Garden, but for an e-traveler, it could be more engaging. For visitors to spend more time at the site, the tour would have to be more special.  In a virtual tour, visitors will use their eyes, but other senses should also be stimulated.

Better: Dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History

The tours at the AMNH are similar to the Botanical Gardens tours: they present a room and allow you to pan around and zoom in it--here, the “room” is really a diorama.  One of the dioramas featured as a virtual tour is the Cuthbert Rookery Diorama, which mimics the wading bird rookery at Everglades National Park.  


  • Format: The visual of the tour is at the top of the page, followed by a list of audio clips of bird sounds, with exhibit text underneath. This enhances the sensory experience by allowing visitors to hear and read about what they are seeing.
  • The visitor is in control of what sounds they hear and when they hear them: before viewing the diorama, while they pan around, or after the visual. Because this diorama is static, user-controlled audio makes it more dynamic and interactive.


  • There is lengthy text at the end of the page that lacks an audio option. For this exhibit, the text is the educational information, and visitors might skip it because it is lacking multimedia.
  • The audio is apart from, not a part of, the tour, making listening cumbersome for visitors.

Using a virtual tour with a separate audio tour file is a common tactic in the museum world. In some cases, the existing audio tour, produced from the real-life visitors, accompanies the virtual exhibit.

Best: UPM Forest Life

UPM, a sustainable forestry company, has developed a virtual tour to help people understand the company’s sustainable practices and the forest eco-system in which they work.


  • Audio plays while tour is loading, building excitement.
  • It is an actual "tour," through a set "space," with a tour guide.  It has a beginning, a middle, and an end, not just a picture or series of pictures.
  • Sight and sound are integrated to create a realistic experience.  The viewer is in control of what audio to hear, which videos to watch, and which text bubbles to read.


  • The tour has a longer load time, which may lose potential visitors

From the Forest Life tour, we can see that there are a few ways to ensure a virtual tour is successful. First, it should function as a real tour, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. it should incorporate multiple senses to give the visitor an experience without leaving home. It should leave the visitor in control of the tour's sights, sounds, texts, and other multimedia options.

Virtual Tours are a valuable way to combine your company's image with a branded voice. They offer an alternative to text-only websites or regular pictures, allowing you to break through the clutter and giving interested customers and prospects the opportunity to experience your facility, your point of view, and your brand.

Updated from original publication date of 7/5/2011.


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