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Come fly with me

1 December 2021

I'm always looking for ways to solve problems.

Of course before you can even contemplate thinking up solutions, you have to identify problems worth solving.

Indeed, I believe that the secret to success is not so much being a great problem-solver as it is in being a great problem-identifier. Someone who can see which problems really need solving and which don't.

Every day we see examples of solutions to problems that really don't exist (except in the minds of someone who had an idea and looked for somewhere to apply it). These "solutions" generally don't go far and rarely make a viable commercial enterprise.

Perhaps the Martin Jetpack was a great example of this. People really don't want or need to risk their lives flying to work in a contraption like that when we have far safer, more cost-effective solutions already in place.

However, for once, I'm going to break with my own teachings and create a solution to a problem that doesn't really exist.

I've been looking at the vexxing issue of tourism in the middle of a pandemic.

Until we know whether Omicron is going to be a bonus or yet another hurdle in our battle with Covid 19, chances are that international tourism is going to remain off the cards for some time to come.

Nobody is going to want to come to NZ for two weeks if it means having to remain in isolation for 10 days of those 14 so selling us as a destination will be nigh-on impossible for the forseeable future.

So what about something I've spoken about before... virtual tourism?

Here's how it could work...

Most times I go down to the park and fly my drone I take a spare set of FPV goggles. If anyone shows an interest in what I'm doing I offer them the spare set of goggles and "take them for a ride". These spare goggles are what we call "passenger goggles".

Without exception, those who put these goggles on and come soaring over the park with me are blown away by the experience. It's like nothing they've ever imagined before. Sometimes people get so enthusiastic that they want to know where they can get one of these drones and do this themselves. By the time I've used my last battery these people have almost become addicted to the "out of body" experience they've just enjoyed.

So now imagine that the "passenger" is 10,000Km away in the USA or 18,000Km away in Europe.

Imagine that they can book a ride at any number of beautiful New Zealand locations and direct the flight from the comfort of their armchair in their own country.

How cool would that be?

It's one thing just watching a pre-recorded drone video of a fantastic bit of NZ scenery but it's something totally different to be able to say "Hey, what's that, go over there to the left and drop down a bit lower" then have the camera do exactly that, in real-time.

With modern drone and telecommunications technologies this is very easy to achieve -- so it is a solution looking for a problem. Does that problem really exist?

Are there enough people in distant lands who, in the middle of their cold miserable winter, might want to spend US$50 or so to enjoy such an experience (albeit through their phone or TV set than via a pair of VR goggles)?

I really have no idea -- which is why I consider this to be a solution in search of a problem.

After Christmas, I intend to do some trial flights and test the waters. We'll see if anyone is actually interested in this kind of virtual tourism with a drone-pilot tour-guide around our scenic hotspots.

If this was "a thing" then I could see some small reprive for our tourism industry. Train up some drone-based virtual tour guides, send them out to the beauty-spots and start showcasing NZ to the world again in a manner that produces much-needed revenues and sustains jobs until the pandemic is over.

This could easily be expanded way beyond a simple drone tour. For US$100 you could get the whole package with some souvenirs (mug, teeshirt whatever) mailed to you after the flight and some useful discounts from actual tourist operators -- so as to encourage those who visited "virtually" to actually come in person when travel conditions allow.

Such a venture would have huge marketing spin-offs for the tourism industry by keeping NZ's profile high, despite the lack of travel, and giving customers a very real reason to make NZ an actual visit in the months or years to come.

Of course the biggest hurdle to this would not be technology but regulation. Many of NZ's most attractive destinations are "no drone" zones but perhaps it's time to waive those restrictions for a few months in order to support the tourism industry during these hard times. It would make a snot-load more sense than the current strategy of paying people to do nothing in an attempt to avoid mass job losses and tourism company failures.

What do readers think?

To the comments with you...

If I was going to do this I'd offer free virtual flights to a raft of international tourism writers and reporters so as to get some (hopefully) positive press and then see whether there really is a problem waiting for this solution.

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