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That's me (or rather my wacky-looking avatar) at the Club Van Gogh in New Holland.

Soaring Around in Alternative Reality: A Press Trip to New Holland

[GoNOMAD Associate Editor Stephen Hartshorne recently participated in the world's first press trip in cyberspace. The trip to New Holland, in the alternative reality Second Life, was sponsored by the Netherlands Board of Tourism. Here is his report. He has also posted a gallery of photos from Second Life.]

"I guess it was a bad idea to have the journalists on the press trip meet at the bar -- the Club Van Gogh to be precise.

By the time the tour was supposed to start, most of them couldn't find their way out. Either that or they were shacked up with some attractive Dutch person...

I could navigate pretty well, but I'd been practising a lot earlier in the day, using the arrows on my keyboard. The right and left arrows just turn you. They don't make you move. The up and down arrows propel you either forward or back. You have to turn first and then go. Like I said, it takes some getting used to.

Severely Traumatized

Within minutes of my arrival I was severely traumatized. It wasn't as bad as it sounds. This cute little Dutch girl asked me if I wanted to join her group and I said, "Sure."

For some reason, though, this meant I walked around with a cartoon balloon over my head that read, "Severely Traumatized."

I found my way out of the bar and waited with the tour director while her assistants went back into the bar again and again trying to find the wayward journalists.

Waiting outside with Brink and Brigitta

When we finally got a quorum, they tried to show us how to ride a bicycle, but for most of us that was pretty much out of the question.

I started wandering around New Holland. I saw a lot of great art in the museum, and then went back into the Club Van Gogh to get some more photos.

Some guy named Brink (or rather, his avatar) kept appearing and asking me to teleport to his location, but these teleports began taking longer and longer, so I struck out on my own.

Since I was able to fly, I decided to cross the Channel to England. I was airborne for what seemed like ages with no land in sight, so I decided to cast myself into the sea.

Down and down I plummeted, but I always seemed to end up at the water's edge..."

A Resounding Sucess

Besides being an historic first, the World's First Press Tour in Cyberspace was a resounding success in my opinion, even though shepherding journalists around in an alternative reality proved more challenging than originally anticipated.

Brink Barrymore, Bianca Bracken, and Brigitta Kroon-Fiorita of the Netherlands Board of Tourism in New York, hosting the historic cyber press trip from their command center at Starbucks

I, for one, had a fabulous time, and so did my friends at the Netherlands Board of Tourism.

"We had lots of fun," says Brigitta Kroon-Fiorita, Marketing and Public Relations Development Manager. "I think for a first try it went very well. We're happy that some brave media souls tried this and took the plunge with us. And nice going, trying to escape to England!"

I asked Brigitta how a tour in the alternative reality of Second Life could promote the Netherlands as a destination.

"Well, we showcase various fun leisure aspects of Holland," she said. "It puts Holland in the mindset of Second Life users. If they had a good time in New Holland, we count on them to inform their friends."

"We believe positive experiences in New Holland certainly will help to build the image of Holland as a vacation destination, increasing the desire to visit Holland. The tourism information present and links to our websites (holland.com and trippist.com) hopefully will add to the desire to discover more about the 'real' destination."

$50,000 Actual Dollars for an Imaginary Island

I was also curious if the tourism board had set up New Holland as an alternative to the infamous Second Life island known as "Amsterdam," which houses a cyber red-light district (Don't ask me how that works -- I don't want to know) and was recently purchased for $50,000 actual US dollars.

Flying over New Holland
Flying over New Holland

Fifty thousand actual dollars for an imaginary island? Video gaming meets Economics 101.

"In Second Life there are commercial places that operate in an Amsterdam-like environment," Brigitta said. "With New Holland we wanted to create a place in Second Life where you can experience some of the greatest tourist highlights of Holland. We decided to offer all attractions (including picking tulips, riding a bike, drinks in bar/cafe) free of charge so that there is no financial barrier to experience Holland."

If you're unfamiliar with Second Life, it's a place where you (or rather, your avatar) can wander (or fly) around in cyberspace and encounter interesting people.

Some want to kill you with space-age weapons and some don't. There are killing and non-killing zones, I'm told.

This guy Brink kept asking me to teleport.
This guy Brink kept asking me to teleport.

They have a special Second Life currency called Linden dollars, but some things you pay for in cash, like land.

And there is no question this is the wave of the future. More than 485,000 people spent at least one hour on Second Life last week.

Some people literally spend every available waking hour there, creating new lives for themselves, buying homes and even getting married. Are they raising families? I don't know. Maybe that's next.

A Real-Time Audio Interface

I had a tour of Second Life with my friend Alexander, who works for the company. He said they're working on a real-time audio interface.

Right now people communicate by typing in messages that appear in cartoon balloons. Once they introduce this audio interface, people will actually be able to talk to one another.

A quiet moment with Vincent
A quiet moment with Vincent

"With people from all over the world," I asked, "who will translate?"

"Oh people will develop their own translators," he said.

Oh, right. This is the future. People develop translators just like that.

I asked Brigitta whether the tourist board is planning any more cyber press trips in the future. She says they're planning to work with journalists one at a time.

"We will be doing some individual media tours in the near future, but there are no immediate plans for another group tour yet. We will continue to communicate about New Holland and added features, however. I guess it also depends on the interest of the media in Second Life."


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Stephen Hartshorne


Stephen Hartshorne is the associate editor of GoNOMAD.com. He writes a blog called ArmchairTravel about books he finds at flea markets and rummage sales.



View Stephen Hartshorne's gallery of photos from Second Life.

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