How Technology Enhances Visitor Experiences and Eases Tourist Pressures
‘Warning over tourism torrent for fragile caves on the West Coast’ – a headline that grabbed my attention a couple of days ago. Department of Conservation, a New Zealand government agency issues a strictly limited number of permits to enter caves in the area. I was lucky enough to be able to visit the Oparara Basin caves on a permit and see countless moa skeletons and a few rare cave spiders. Needless to say, how important it is to take utmost care when navigating sensitive parts of the cave and respecting out of bound areas. Low visitor numbers equal low overall impact – no doubt about this.
The danger of increasing tourist pressure on natural and cultural heritage sites is nothing new. Nowadays, interactive technologies not only mitigate the pressure on our environment, but provide visitors with unique and individual experiences despite being in a crowded exhibition. The amount and breath of supplementing and educational information that can be offered digitally is staggering.
A fantastic example for New Zealand to look at are the Lascaux Caves in France. 17,000 to 20,000-year-old cave paintings were discovered by local teenagers in 1940. The cave opened to visitors in 1948 and quickly attracted up to 2,000 visitors a day. It didn’t take long for the introduced humidity, heat and microbes to take a toll and mould and lichen started deteriorating the paintings (link). Restoration work started and more and more strict conservation measures were put in place. Before the cave was fully closed to all visitors, scientists collected enough data to replicate the cave.
Over three years a stunning exhibition was set up in the International Centre for Cave Art, including full replica of two densely decorated chambers, interactive displays showcasing particular artefacts, a 3D reprint using QR codes, VR experiences and a modern theatre show.
With any technology getting better and more affordable it is possible to recreate similar experiences for a lot less cost here in New Zealand. The New Zealand caving community is getting involved with mapping caves and some of the examples will be part of another post!