April 07, 2020

BRINGING THE WORLD TO YOUR DOOR Presque Isle company uses digital photos, software to create virtual tour packages

It’s 2 a.m. and you’re wide awake, in your pajamas, with nothing to do. Suddenly you decide now is the time to tour that far-flung campground you’re hoping to visit this summer.

Wishful thinking?

Absolutely not, say three business partners who are trying to create a virtual world that connects Maine with the rest of the globe.

My Digital Tours, run by Karin Gilbert, Patrick Patterson and owner Brock Price, produces virtual tours of a location – a store, a hotel, or even a hospital – which people can view through e-mail or the Internet at any time of day, anywhere in the world.

The business partners use digital photography and proprietary software (they wouldn’t reveal the brand name) to create 360 degree “spins” – a panoramic picture connected at the ends to form a loop – of a room, a building or the view outside, so virtual tour-takers can see exactly what a location looks like. They design several spins for a client and offer features such as satellite photos, still photos, PDF tour fliers and custom CDs to create a virtual tour package.

“It gives you a sensation of actually being there,” Gilbert said recently of the company’s tours. “It’s an enticement for people who will be able to see a place without flying or driving there first.”

Gilbert deals with the sales and marketing, while Patterson handles the digital photography and Price does the graphic design. Price originally started up the company as Maine Real Tours, which focused on creating virtual tours for real estate purposes. But with some out-of-the-box thinking and some partners, the Presque Isle-based business has evolved into one that allows clients to use the technology in “any way that they want.”

“We’re finding that 80 to 90 percent of people we talk to have a use for it, whether it’s showcasing their business or for personal use,” Patterson said recently.

For example, one customer renovated his camp and wanted his mother to see it – she lives out of state and couldn’t visit – so he sent her a virtual tour of the place.

Gilbert said the technology also is attracting clients who are looking for a unique way to showcase the tourism, relocation and economic development opportunities in the area.

Take Cary Medical Center in Caribou, for example. Hospital officials have opted to use the technology as a way to highlight their Web site and to help in staff recruitment.

“One of the biggest issues we have is to present the facility itself to people who aren’t from the area,” Bill Flagg, Cary’s director of community relations and development, said recently. “A lot of people make preconceptions about what the [northern Maine] hospital might have to offer in terms of the facility. This virtual tour is going to provide us with the opportunity to really showcase what a beautiful facility we have and the technology that’s available here.”

Take away the preconceptions by offering a virtual tour, Flagg said, and physicians and nurses may be more likely to consider seeking a job in northern Maine, or at least visit for a closer look.

While a virtual tour is much like viewing a location through a web cam that offers a 360-degree view, Gilbert explained that it’s not that easy.

“You might say, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve got a digital camera. I could do that,'” Gilbert said. “But it takes a professional eye, specific equipment and the experience of a professional graphic designer to do this,” she said.

To create a spin, Patterson takes scores of pictures with special equipment and Price “stitches” the pictures together. The result is a seamless image, without distortion, that viewers can explore, magnify and navigate. Gilbert explained that their packages allow viewers to auto play through the tour, manually navigate it, use a drop-down list to move around, or click on “hot spots” to go to a certain location within the tour. A hot spot takes viewers to a different scene, either a still photo or another spin.

“Everything is customizable and this gives you 24-7 online availability and worldwide exposure,” she said.

Gilbert pointed out that a client does not need to have a Web site to buy or view a digital tour. Spins can be uploaded to the Internet or can be sent to people by e-mail.

So far, the company has had a number of diverse businesses and clients sign up for the service, including campgrounds, a hotel and other lodging businesses, a gift shop and a movie theater.

While Gilbert and Patterson said they are seeing more businesses come around to the idea, they predict that tourism-related industries will become their major focus.

“They’re trying to bring new people in who are coming from places where everything is at their fingertips,” Patterson said. “This is such a growth-oriented tool … it shows people, instantly, what they’re missing and why they should visit.”

For more information, visit www.my


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