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Coronavirus Reveals the Beauty in Our Own Backyards

Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, September 4

The coronavirus pandemic has made the world feel large again. The ban on international travel has separated countries and split continents, leaving people confined to their own home nation. Thankfully, one of the big blessings of this situation has been technology, which enables employees to work from home, students to take classes virtually, and families to stay in touch through video calls. However, it is clear to all of us that these remote, virtual solutions are merely temporary. This is because human relations cannot, over time, exist at a distance. This is also true of “distance travel,” a phenomenon I recently stumbled across. Some tourism marketing companies have begun offering virtual reality packages that seemingly transport users from one country to another in an effort to mimic the experience of international travel. Even if the technology were ripe and the experience entirely authentic, such services would still be problematic. In travel, people look for a change of place, a change of pace and a change of mindset. People want to hail a cab and talk to the local driver. They want to walk down the narrow streets of old quarters. They want to hear the local language. They want to taste local foods and explore local cultures. They even like the breakfast buffet served at their hotel. These and more cannot be achieved from afar. The truth is that we can all put travel aside until the time and circumstances allow us to fly again. Indeed, far more important things have been disrupted in light of COVID-19. If nothing else, this is a unique opportunity for all of us: a chance to explore the tourist attractions in our very own countries and hometowns. There’s plenty of rich history and culture in our own environment yet we often rush to get on a plane and explore faraway places elsewhere in the world. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing us to rediscover the beauty in our own backyards. – Youssef Al-Qablan (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)