Amazon starts offering virtual classes and sightseeing tours via new Explore platform

Amazon has launched Explore, a new platform which it promises will let you “explore anything from lessons to landmarks.” It works via a video stream, with tour guides, instructors, and personal shoppers providing one-on-one sessions. Amazon says the video is one-way, meaning only the host is on camera during the virtual experience, but the audio is two-way so you can ask questions and make requests.

The Explore page provides an idea of the range of experiences on offer. These include relatively cheap sessions like a $10, 40-minute virtual shopping experience in Ridgeland, USA, to a 45-minute virtual tour of a mansion in Lima, Peru for $70, or a $129 bagel cooking class. In some cases Amazon lists ingredients and supplies to buy before a session, but it says that these are optional if you just want to watch along from home. TechCrunch reports there are a total of 86 experiences across 16 countries.

Amazon is just the latest company to start offering virtual events this year, as people have had to cut down on trips and other in-person activities. Earlier this year, Airbnb launched its own virtual travel experiences, and fitness company ClassPass has shifted to offering online classes.

Apple was initially criticized for taking a 30 percent cut of these virtual purchases, The New York Times reports, but last week said it would temporarily stop taking its cut on virtual purchases from Airbnb, ClassPass, and Facebook’s online events feature. Amazon’s Explore product pages note that customers are able to browse and purchase experiences on mobile phones and tablets, though it’s unclear whether these will be subject to Apple’s 30 percent commission.

According to Amazon, hosts come from a range of established tour guide companies including Intrepid Urban Adventures, Bamba, and Essence of Berlin. TechCrunch notes that hosts are in charge of the prices of their sessions, but says that Amazon declined to comment on the revenue split. If you take a virtual shopping experience, any purchases are handled via Amazon’s payment system.

According to TechCrunch, Amazon Explore is currently only available on an invite-only basis to customers in the US. You book by choosing an experience, and then picking a date and time for a session, and these can be cancelled or rescheduled with up to 24 hours’ notice. Although Amazon says you can browse and book experiences on mobile, you’ll need to switch to a laptop or desktop computer for the session itself.