Amazon is getting into the travel game — virtually.
The company on Wednesday launched Amazon Explore, which lets you book virtual, interactive experiences such as landmark tours, art walks, local shopping and expert-led animal experiences. Bookings are only by invitation, for now.
Amazon Explore lists dozens of experiences around the world that range in price and length. For example, users can pay $90 to virtually tour Kyoto’s Higashiyama neighborhood with a local guide; $45 to remotely cook traditional Bolognese with an Italian chef; $70 to shop around Quebec’s scenic Quartier Petit; or $39 to get up close and personal with sloths and toucans in Costa Rica. The private tours allow users to point to what interests them and direct the guide with a click of their mouse.
The offerings are powered by local tour operators who are trained and supported by Amazon. (Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) They are done by private video calls that allow users to ask questions and drive the experience without being on video.
The listings are currently “available by invitation only” and are bookable only in the United States. Users can request an invitation to one of the tours by logging in to their Amazon account and browsing the offerings, each of which have a request button. Most of the “tours” are 30 to 90 minutes in length.
Amazon spokesperson Dan Benelisha said in an email that the platform is in a soft-launch beta phase.
Once an invitation to book a tour is secured, Amazon Explore experiences are two-way audio and one-way video, meaning the host can hear questions and comments but not see the participant. The two-way audio aims to create a “sense of ‘being there’ as opposed to simply watching passively on a screen,” Benelisha said.
Amazon Explore experiences allow for shopping, so customers can visit and browse local stores and markets, ask questions, and purchase items for shipment as if they were shopping on Amazon.
If it sounds like a win for travelers craving culture and history, it is also a potential lifeline for businesses and tour guides, whom Amazon is inviting to submit their own experiences as listings on the site.
“Amazon Explore provides a flexible opportunity for small businesses,” Benelisha said in the email. “Shop owners, guides, teachers, chefs, stylists, artists and artisans will get access to millions of customers on Amazon while setting their own prices and hours.”
The Explore experiences are limited to one device per session, and participants can take screen shots as an alternative to snapping vacation photos.