Tourists 'visit' the Med without leaving home
Tourists will no longer have to leave the comfort of their armchair to experience the splendours of the Mediterranean islands thanks to an EU-funded project that has created software providing three-dimensional (3D) versions of sandy beaches, sleepy village squares and cosy local hotels. Funding for the MEDISOLAE-3D project came from the European Commission's Interreg/Archimed and eContent programmes, with overall support totalling EUR 2.7 million.
Software experts from Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus and Malta have created 3D versions of the beautiful Mediterranean islands. They believe their state-of-the-art technology will help transform the tourism sector.
MEDISOLAE-3D users will be able to 'fly over' Mediterranean islands and swoop down when something catches their attention; they could 'land' on a beach or in a village square, and move about to get a feel for the shops, restaurants and attractions. They could even make purchases, reserve tables and book hotels. Perhaps the funkiest aspect of this software is that if users don't like where they have landed, they simply 'swoop up into the air again' and try somewhere else — all without taking their eyes off their computer screen.
The project combines software designed for aircraft landing simulations with orthophotography and satellite images of the islands, as well as public data like digital terrain models, maps and tourist services to create the portal to the 3D island experience. Updates from a range of public and private databases will be made automatically, offering users only the most up-to-date information and enabling them to enjoy their virtual stay as much as possible.
The initial aim of the project was to deliver such a service to the inhabitants of more than 100 European Mediterranean islands, and scientists now hope to link the virtual-visiting tool to web-geoplatforms like Google Earth, MS Virtual Earth, or ESRI ArcGlobe. People worldwide will have access to the tool.
Once the MEDISOLAE-3D framework is in place, it can work in combination with a range of spatial data services 'to aid tourism, transportation and other money-earners for the island economies, but it can also provide services for health and disaster planning, the environment, and policymaking', according to the project partners.
However, this scenario still lies somewhat in the future. MEDISOLAE-3D is still in a pre-commercial state, said Professor Marc Bonazountas from the National Technical University of Athens in Greece, project coordinator of MEDISOLAE-3D. 'There is a large number of islands and if you want to offer a product to the market, you can't do it simply with one island, you have to do it with a large number,' he pointed out. 'That is what we are investigating now. We want to package this in a cheap way to get money for these islands.'
A pilot has been built using data from the Greek Island of Santorini and the project team is in discussions with 5 local prefectures which govern over 50 islands.
The project is already attracting a great deal of interest and a spin-off product has already been developed that provides boating enthusiasts with information and views of marina facilities and services in island ports.