A travel company on campus became a controversial issue last week.
Life Before Work Travel (LBW Travel) came to the University of Winnipeg (U of W) with its virtual reality technology on Oct. 8 to show off its tours.
“When you put the virtual reality glasses on and you move your head around – you look up, down, any direction – the actual camera angle shifts with your face,” LBW Travel marketing director Eric Elder says.
Elder says some people are more interested in the medium than the tours as it’s the first time many people experience the technology.
At the U of W, some were more interested in what they deemed to be discriminatory imagery in the videos.
University of Winnipeg Students’ Association president Peyton Veitch saw the videos.
“Frankly, it was kind of shocking to see,” Peyton says, citing cultural appropriation and sexism as the reasons for his reaction.
“The cultural appropriation was brought to our attention because there was someone in a headdress in our Halloween Las Vegas video,” Elder says. “I kind of see where they’re coming from, but, like, it’s Halloween. People dress up as all sorts of characters on Halloween. I don’t think that’s necessarily a racist thing.”
Despite his personal opinion, he pulled the video.
Then came complaints about a video with women in bikinis.
“We offer adventure travel and part of that has to do with having a lot of fun and parties and naturally with that comes women in bikinis,” Elder says. “We try to offer the best time possible. I feel like girls in bikinis is included in that.”
This was not something Veitch expected to see on campus.
Veitch pointed to the University of Winnipeg’s Respectful Working and Learning Environment Policy which does not allow discrimination on campus.
He heard from students who were offended by images in LBW Travel’s videos and brought it to the attention of the U of W, which rented the space to them.
“We didn’t think the organization reflected the values of the university,” Veitch says.
After LBW began approaching students outside of the atrium, the university asked them to leave.
A day of virtual exploration on campus ended up being a learning experience for LBW Travel.
In an email Elder later sent to The Uniter, he wrote, “I think it’s important to note that we can’t really control what our guests choose to wear for Halloween, but we will leave content like this out of our future videos. We would never want to be seen as culturally insensitive especially since our goal is to introduce people to other cultures and open their eyes to the rest of the world through unique travel experiences.”
Elder says that LBW Travel’s tours are party-oriented, but it is still concerned about responsible travel.
“What we do is we aim to open up people’s eyes to the rest of the world,” Elder says.
For example, it doesn’t allow travellers to ride elephants, but rather takes them to elephant sanctuaries. In Thailand, the company gives its travellers refillable water bottles so they aren’t creating waste.
“We’ll party on the beach but then we’ll clean it up in the morning,” Elder says.
The company also trains guides to deal with situations where people could be in danger, including when people are intoxicated or aggressive.
“We want to be respectful. We want to learn about the culture and experience that culture,” Elder says.