The idea of connecting with people and places online is nothing new, but virtual experiences have undeniably gained a higher level of popularity since the pandemic forced almost everyone around the world to stay home. Familiar companies like Amazon and Airbnb began offering online tours, classes, and other digital travel experiences, but new names also sprung from the hardships over the past year.
Beeyonder is one of them.
Launched in December 2020, Beeyonder brings people on virtual adventures around the world, exploring nearly 50 countries, plus Antarctica. And though the company was established in the midst of the pandemic, its inspiration and purpose stems from its founder's experience as a bilateral amputee.
"While being a bilateral amputee doesn't prevent me from traveling, I do have joint issues that prevent me from walking long distances without a significant amount of pain," Beeyonder founder Brittany Palmer told Travel + Leisure. "I thought how wonderful it would be to be able to see things I may never get to see in person through virtual experiences."
She also thought of her husband, who suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm in 2013 and spent weeks in the hospital and several months at home in recovery.
"Based on [those] experiences, I started looking into how many people in the U.S. have disabilities and other conditions that prevent or inhibit travel, and found that there are [more than] 40 million people in that category — limited mobility, hospital/homebound, those who have degenerative diseases, agoraphobia, a fear of flying, those on parole," Palmer explained. "I wanted to provide the ultimate equal access to travel."
With that, Beeyonder was born. Now, anyone can sign up for the company's 350 virtual experiences, which include glow-in-the-dark tours of an Australian forest to see biofluorescent and bioluminescent wildlife, fungi, and leaves; a dive into the world of the Vikings in Norway; and teatime in Japan. Beeyonder offers both private and group options, each led by a qualified guide. The experiences are also interactive, so guests will be able to speak with their guides and ask questions.
According to Palmer, the response from customers has been overwhelmingly positive.
"We've had families from across the country, a rehabilitation center for adults suffering from brain injuries, a nonprofit working with adults and kids with developmental disabilities, and many more, all of whom have had wonderful experiences," she said.
And although countries are reopening their borders and travel is picking up again, Palmer believes that virtual experiences are here to stay.
"Based on surveys we've conducted, most people plan to continue to do virtual tours, even after the pandemic subsides. There are millions of people in the U.S. alone that have disabilities that prevent or inhibit travel. They will still need virtual tours to see the world."
Jessica Poitevien is a Travel + Leisure contributor currently based in South Florida, but she's always on the lookout for her next adventure. Besides traveling, she loves baking, talking to strangers, and taking long walks on the beach. Follow her adventures on Instagram.
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