The power of Virtual Globes for valorising cultural heritage and enabling sustainable tourism: NASA World Wind applications
Inspired by the visionary idea of Digital Earth, as well as from the tremendous improvements in geo-technologies, use of virtual globes has been changing the way people approach to geographic information on the Web. Unlike the traditional 2D-visualization typical of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), virtual globes offer multi-dimensional, fully-realistic content visualization which allows for a much richer user experience. This research investigates the potential for using virtual globes to foster tourism and enhance cultural heritage. The paper first outlines the state of the art for existing virtual globes, pointing out some possible categorizations according to license type, platform-dependence, application type, default layers, functionalities and freedom of customization. Based on this analysis, the NASA World Wind virtual globe is the preferred tool for promoting tourism and cultural heritage. This is because its open source nature allows unlimited customization (in terms of both data and functionalities), and its Java core supports platform-independence. Relevant tourism-oriented World Wind-based applications, dealing with both the Web promotion of historical cartography and the setup of a participatory Web platform exploiting crowd-sourced data, are described. Finally, the paper presents a project focusing on the promotion of the Via Regina area (crossing the border between Italy and Switzerland) through an ad hoc World Wind customization. World Wind can thus be considered an ideal virtual globe for tourism applications, as it can be shaped to increase awareness of cultural history and, in turn, enhance touristic experience.