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Google and UNESCO partner to bring over 1,000 culture and heritage sites online

The landscape of Rio di Janeiro, one of the areas featured by Google as part of the new resource. 
The landscape of Rio di Janeiro, one of the areas featured by Google as part of the new resource.  (Google Arts and Culture/UNESCO)

The new resource covers over a thousand World Heritage sites in the form of a “virtual globetrotting tour” of cultural landmarks and places of natural beauty, as the company puts it.

Google on Sunday announced that its Arts and Culture division was partnering with UNESCO and other international partners to promote access to education around cultural and natural heritage with a new online resource, ‘Explore UNESCO World Heritage’.

The new resource covers over a thousand World Heritage sites in the form of a “virtual globetrotting tour” of cultural landmarks and places of natural beauty, as the company puts it. The company says it will be available starting today, on World Heritage Day, at a time when most of us are spending our days indoors.

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Thanks to the novel coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing rolling lockdowns, access to heritage sites and other historical places of interest has remained extremely limited. “In this spirit, UNESCO is working to offer alternative ways to facilitate access to cultural heritage during the COVID-19 pandemic and build new ways to share culture in the future,” the company said on its blog.

Among the areas and sites covered by the initiative are ancient pilgrimage routes in Northern Spain, France’s canals, Mount Kilimanjaro, volcanoes in South Korea, and whales in Mexico, the company says. However, the company has also warned of the rapidly changing future of these heritage sites because of the pandemic.

Users can browse using the following categories - cities, holy sites, nature and history. 
Users can browse using the following categories - cities, holy sites, nature and history.  (Google Arts and Culture/ UNESCO)

According to Google, 40 percent of the tourism market is centered around culture and heritage, while international tourists had reduced by 75 percent last year compared to 2019. This resulted in a €3.5 billion loss in royalties to artists and creators due to closed concert halls, theatres, bookstores and cinemas. The company also says that 90 percent of museums had closed their doors and 10 percent of them may never reopen, according to the International Council of Museums (ICOM).

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While a virtual experience may suffice for the time being, nothing compares to entering a museum or a heritage monument. Google hasn’t specified whether the resources will be made available online forever, but it remains optimistic. “We shall travel again. In the meantime, we hope it will nevertheless enable users to immerse themselves in the beauty of our world, and inspire action to protect it,’ the company says.

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