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June 15, 2007

Chichen Itza — Second Life goes Maya


Last Sunday the Mexican Tourist Board threw a party to celebrate the opening of virtual Chichen Itza on Second Life.

Here's Jayne Clark's story, from today's USA Today.

    Oh, the places you'll go — on the Internet

    The Mexican Tourism Board threw a party Sunday at Chichen Itza, the magnificent Mayan archaeological site in the Yucatan jungle. The thousands of guests, many of whom donned complimentary Mayan warrior get-ups and salsa-danced to live music, were an international mix.

    But nobody checked into a hotel when the festivities ended.

    Instead, they simply logged out of Second Life, the virtual world populated by 7.2 million registered users. To enter the online realm, participants register on the free site (secondlife.com), create an alter ego called an avatar and navigate the character via their computer keyboard, interacting with other users.

    Many of the locales within Second Life are simulations of generic places — restaurants, beaches and stadiums, for instance. But as this cyber world grows (it now boasts about 1 million regular users), real-world tourism entities, including tourist boards, hotels and travel agencies, are setting up virtual re-creations there to heighten awareness of their real-world existence.

    Sunday's launch party for the virtual Mayan ruins is just the latest such attempt. "We think Second Life is one example of new ways of promoting tourism or specific destinations," says Mexico Tourism's Carlos Behnsen.

    So does STA Travel, an agency that caters to 18- to 26-year-olds. It opened a virtual island in Second Life in April with a travel agency staffed by a globe-trekking manager. Like Mexico, it also sponsors regular online events to keep visitors returning. Eventually, the agency plans to sell actual trips via the site.

    Both Sweden and the Maldives recently launched virtual embassies in Second Life. "If you get more people interested in the country, you'll get more people interested in traveling there," says Sibley Verbeck, head of the Electric Sheep Co., which created Sweden's 3-D virtual presentations.

    Starwood Hotels opened the Second Life version of its new chain lodging, Aloft, last August — though the bricks-and-mortar version won't open until 2008. The idea was to create buzz about the new brand and gather feedback from its target market, young business travelers. That feedback led to changing some design elements and amenities.

    Morocco tourism has a presence that showcases the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, the Marrakesh marketplace and Rabat's old city. "It was created as a space to explore Morocco without traveling there. But it's much more interactive than a poster," says Hilary Mason, a Johnson and Wales University professor whose students created it.


When in Rome ....

June 15, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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