05 August 2008

Try before you buy Australia: new virtual tour available for tourists

Australia’s version of the controversial new Google Street View mapping tool has been launched today despite concerns of its infringement on public privacy, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

The Google Street View allows people to virtually tour the streets of selected cities and towns around the world using the internet.  Cars armed with cameras patrolled most city centres and suburban streets of the US, New Zealand, France, Italy, Britain, Spain, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Japan, Switzerland and Norway.  Users will now be able to see 360 degree street-level views around selected countries free of charge.  Google aims to eventually have an entire World Street View.

In Australia, most costal cities and many regional and outback towns have been covered in the Street View, while issues of cultural sensitivity prevented places such as Uluru (Ayers Rock) to be omitted from the program. 

Andrew Foster, Product Manager at Google Australia, told reporters, "Google Maps has its origins as an Australian invention so we're thrilled to bring Street View here as one of the first countries in the world. A lot of remote and regional Australia is now available to explore virtually - Tom Price, Gundagai, Longreach, Esperance, and so much more. Street View will allow people to visit places in Australia they may not have had a chance to experience before."

Google is expecting tourists, house hunters, and students to benefit most from the Street View free virtual tours.  Tourism Australia, the Real Estate Institute of Australia, and the Australian Geography Teachers Association have all thanked Google in advance for the benefits they foresee to come from the launching of the program.

Tourists will now be able to sample the sights of Sydney, arrange meeting points, or view beachside accommodation in remote coastal towns before setting foot in the country.  People wanting to move to Australia will also be able to make better decisions about which city or suburb they want to settle into. 

Tourism Australia has already hand-picked a selection of images from the Google Street View in Australia, so that those who want to visit Australia can view the country’s most popular attractions and locations before they arrive.

Tourism Australia Managing Director Geoff Buckley said, "Street View will offer [tourists] a whole new way to research Australia as a holiday destination and will help them plan their trips by taking in-depth virtual tours – not only of our cities but of many regional areas and places off the beaten track. Street View is going to make Australia more accessible by giving people a glimpse of what we have to offer and it will be just the start of the journey of discovery."

According to the Dominion Post, concerns over breaches of privacy have been voiced by activists in Australia and New Zealand; however, Google has gone to great lengths to safeguard members of the public by blurring number plates and identifiable faces from the imagery.  Users can also flag for removal of images from the program if they feel it is necessary.

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in helping people apply for an Australia visa.

Article by Jessica Bird, Australian Visa Bureau.

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