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Travel & Leisure

Asia tourist sector blends real and virtual to lure back visitors

From Thai elephants to Japanese fish, digital tours gain ground after coronavirus

An avatar robot lets people tour the New Yashima Aquarium on the island of Shikoku from the comfort of home. (Source photos by Ken Kobayashi/ANA)

TOKYO/HONG KONG -- Shintaro Kobara paid a different sort of visit to a Japanese aquarium last month. Amazed by rare "sea cows" as well as blue and yellow fish, the 12-year-old took a tour of the New Yashima Aquarium on the island of Shikoku -- all while staying at home, thanks to an avatar robot.

Kobara used his computer to control the robot, developed by Avatarin, a spinoff from airline ANA Holdings, and guide it through the aquarium on a tour led by a member of the staff. He viewed the tanks full of brightly colored fish through a camera on the robot while his own face was displayed on the robot's screen.

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