In the Great Lockdown and Quarantine, video and virtual channels has become the main channels to facilitate social interactions, especially for businesses that once traditionally operated completely offline. AirBnB's Online Experiences has accelerated this rising trend of virtual experiences, with a plethora of unique and live interactive sessions conducted by experts for a small group of "tourists" over zoom.
"Follow the Plague Doctor through Prague" is one of the most popular tours on AirBnB's online experiences where you get to step back in time and virtually experience the empty streets of Prague during the Black Death and plagues of the 17th and 18th centuries. Hosted by a lively team calling themselves The Night Watchmen, they present the history of Prague in a fun and interesting way through virtual tours and experiences to make it come alive.
In this travel talk, we speak with David Merten, one of the night watchmen, to find out more about how they got started and the impact of Covid on their tours and activities.
What's your backstory, and how did you get started with Night Watchmen?
I started doing Nightwatchman Tours in the German city Münster during my studies about 15 years ago. Since then, I have kept this tradition alive. Also, as a member of the European guild of Nightwatchman and Watchmen, I represent Prague and the Czech Republic through the conducting of these tours.
It was also kind of interesting as my mum was quite surprised. She told me that my great-grandfather Johan was in fact a night watchman and a gravedigger from a small German village.
Image: David Merten from The Night Watchmen
How has the Covid Pandemic affected your tours and business?
Our second tour called “The Plague Doctor of Prague” was created in 2019 and was on the way to become a bestseller. We had a strong run in 2019 and a great forecast with lots of bookings for 2020.
However, in March with the onset of lockdown because of the Covid pandemic, I received many cancellations and we refunded more than 90 bookings of events. We decided from the beginning of April to move everything online despite many people around us not believing in the feasibility of virtual experiences. Tour companies were in the shock-and-denial phase, which helped us to be the first mover in this space.
What was the transition to virtual tours and online experiences like, and how do you keep it engaging compared to an in-person tour?
To stay engaged, we use all available tools on several platforms. We use Menti and Zoom for interactive presentations and meetings while including poll questions, riddles and questions to keep things interesting for our audience.
What are some interesting facts about Prague that most people do not know?
Prague has a rich history of kings, nobles and shady characters which gives us a very broad scope in planning our tours. We like to explore the city from the point of view of forgotten characters, and our original costumes fit quite well into the city as almost nothing was destroyed despite the several wars in Europe.
Prague also has lots of legends, and we like to connect to those during our tours. We had the first middle European university here known as Charles University from the 14th Century, about the same time that our famous Charles Bridge was built. The Astronomical Clock is also one of the most famous clocks worldwide that usually attracts up to 5.2 million people per year.
Image: Plague Doctor from The Night Watchmen
Inspiring Takeaways: What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
We have a chance during these troubling times to inspire people. As trendsetters, our optimistic and positive approach helps us to inspire confidence in our viewers and audiences amid the current crises. We live and breathe this during our online tours, and we hope this can serve to support people through quarantine. At the same time, we help to establish and build connections for people who cannot travel through our virtual tours and events.
Interestingly enough, despite the plague being a dark topic, our participants realise that we live in much better conditions these days.
We also learnt about what is truly important to us, which are the relationships and connections among people, especially our loved ones. We are often touched when people book us for private birthday events and team building to stay connected.
Future Plans: What’s in the works for 2021, and the next five years?
We have our 3rd tour in preparation about the hidden gems of Prague. Besides that, we have started our research to create the “Witch Hunter General of Prague” about the inquisition times in Europe and Prague.
Image: The Night Watchmen