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After being cooped up for almost a year, a friend of mine and I decided to visit Venice in December — but we didn’t do it the conventional way.

We skipped the plane, train, and gondola rides to get to the lagoon in the middle of the Adriatic.

I visited from my dining room, she visited from her office, and we were given a tour of the city by a charismatic, engaging guide who was born and raised in Venice.

Luca Fornasier has been giving tours since he was a teenager, but now offers them (complete with stops at “secret places”) almost exclusively via Airbnb Experiences because of COVID-19.


“I started to welcome clients in my city when I was only 16 years old,” Fornasier said in an e-mail. “During the trip, even if I was very young, I was always preparing a map for my clients with all the best local suggestions and secret places to visit to skip the tourists traps and the crowds!”

That attention to detail wasn’t lost on the Zoom virtual tour.

He quizzed us (we guessed using the chat function), promised prizes to create a competitive atmosphere, answered questions, and somehow managed to keep the names of all tour attendees straight (there were about 20 of us) as he walked along Venice canals and through alleys.

Fornasier uses a smartphone, stabilizing gimbal, and a pair of headphones to create the best virtual connection possible with his guests. But it’s not always easy and limits his tour stops.

“The biggest challenge is the mobile data connection,” Fornasier said. “Unfortunately, there are some areas of Venice with very narrow streets where I can’t go because the connection doesn’t work there.”

“Another challenge is that if you have a group with different clients and different ages, you have to be able to entertain all of them!”


Our tour included grandparents, families with young children, single adults, and middle-aged couples, with geographic locations spanning the United States and Asia.

In a non-pandemic year, Fornasier’s company, Shome Venice, offers upward of 30 types of tours, provided by a team of native Venetian guides. The company’s TripAdvisor page boasts 5 stars from more than 300 reviews, where tourists can book in-person food tours, walking tours, boat tours, and art tours once travel returns to normal.

Interesting nugget: Shome Venice (shomevenice.com) is pronounced “show-me,” but Fornasier uses the word “home” because he aims to make visitors feel like locals while there.

Our virtual tour, “Secrets of Venice With a Born Venetian,” lasted just over an hour, and with a then-ticket price of $16 (they’re $20 now), and it was a steal when I think about how joyful and fulfilled I felt after the experience.

I won’t spoil the fun facts I learned along the way, but spending a morning on the streets of Venice with Luca gave me hope for potential travel to come in 2021.

Other ways to (virtually) escape the house

Airbnb Experiences are just one of the ways to see the world from the comfort of your home.

Using platforms such as Facebook Live, YouTube Live, and Zoom, businesses and nonprofits are getting crafty about providing experiences from afar.

A quick events search on Facebook revealed that a free Delta College Planetarium Facebook Live event on Jan. 21 allowed global viewers to “See the Northern Lights,” and drew a whopping 176,000 attendees.


According to Facebook, the event, hosted by the planetarium’s manager and astronomer, reached more than 1.7 million interested respondents.

Similar to Airbnb Experiences, Expedia offers Virtual Tours & Activities, ranging from live online cooking classes to history and cultural exploration, and even tours of air and space marvels.

If you’re yearning to explore landmarks closer to home, the Museum of Fine Arts offers a catalog of videos and virtual tours available on its website.

Emily Wright can be reached at emily.rose.sophia@gmail.com.