Behind the scenes at Divine Live and Online

It’s been a year like no other. We’ve all had to adapt to new ways of doing things – from working at home and ordering groceries online, to wearing masks and staying local.

When Canada started to shut down last March, the Divine Destination Collection pivoted quickly. A June trip to the South of France was put on pause, and co-founders Deb Niven and Allison Frame started working on a new, virtual way to engage their loyal travellers until it was safe to travel again.

“We quickly found out that organizing a virtual experience is completely different than planning a regular trip,” says Allison. “Divine Live and Online forced us to dive into a whole new way of experiencing the world and find effective ways to use technology to bring great adventures to life.”

Sacred South of France, Lavender Fields
Trip Planning

A new process for virtual travel

Despite being knocked off their feet at first by the repercussions of the global pandemic and how it would affect the travel industry, Deb and Allison regrouped and were researching their first series of virtual experiences by April. And just like any Divine Destination Collection trip, they found each virtual experience takes months of planning.

The process actually starts off the same as an actual trip – finding an interesting and unique destination that captures that special spiritual aspect The Divine Destination Collection is known for. But now Allison and Deb also needed to make sure the location and experience would work well in a virtual format.

“I began by reaching for my rolodex of contacts from around the world and making calls,” says Allison. “Since this was pretty new for everyone, some people said no, explaining that virtual experiences weren’t really their thing, but fortunately lots said yes.”

Once they had a broad list of possible destinations, Deb and Allison narrowed it down to determine which could create a customized experience that would set them apart from all the virtual experiences found online.

“We didn’t want this to be like a traditional travelogue, or a National Geographic-style documentary. We wanted people to feel like they were actually in the destination, seeing things from their point of view. We also wanted to add some live interaction, so people could ask a local expert questions about what they were seeing.”

Video Production
Drone Camera
Drone Camera

How to produce an interactive video

“It takes a village, that’s for sure and we have a team of wonderful experts that we draw upon” says Allison. “From amazing contacts in each destination to a cracker jack production company in Toronto who either consult on video production or does the actual editing of the raw destination footage into a dynamic video.  The first step is sending a film crew out to the destination and setting up interviews with the people who will appear on screen. This involves writing a script and compiling detailed filming notes and interview questions, as well as figuring out the equipment the crew will need. For example, if a crew is hiking to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, they can’t be lugging around massive cameras to catch gorillas in action. They need small, light equipment that produces great quality video – which can be quite expensive. Also, animals never seem to appear on command so often it takes hours to film what ends up being a 30 minute long video.

Timing is also incredibly important.

“We need to film each location at just the right time,” says Allison. “For example, it gets foggy in India at a certain time of the year, so we can’t film then, or if it’s winter in Morocco now, we have to wait until the spring. Sometimes the window for filming is even more narrow, such as being there at the exact moment monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico, or cherry blossoms burst open in Japan.”

Once filming is done at the optimum time, a rough cut of the footage is prepared – either at the destination, or in Toronto by the Divine’s amazing production company.

What follows next is a flurry of Zoom calls and emails between Allison, the team in the destination and the production company as the video is edited down into its final form. At the same time arrangements are made to book and brief the people who will take part in the live portions of the experience – which often includes juggling different time zones.

Gorillas Uganda
Monarch Butterfly, Mexico
Cherry Blossoms
Zoom Rehearsal
Zoom Rehearsal

More to do before going live

Finally, at least one week before the Divine Live and Online call is scheduled, a full-dress rehearsal is arranged to work out any glitches.

“Of course, just as in life, no matter how well-prepared you are, some new problem will inevitably materialize when you go live,” laughs Allison. “That’s why we also have an unflappable experienced producer on each call to deal with technical difficulties like frozen screens, or mics dropping off.”

Considering this was all being created amidst a global pandemic, we can step back to pause a moment and be proud of how our teams around the world have done so far! From adjusting to new Covid-19 protocols for safety, to dealing with production delays and last minute changes, not to mention the worry of having team members out sick – these have been challenges we have not had to face before now. Our experiences have shown us our resiliency and innovation!

On top of all the research and filming and editing, there is a whole slew of other elements that need to be completed for each call – including an exciting e-book and teaser to entice people to join in on the call, as well as updating The Divine Destination Collection website with new information and arranging online registration.

That’s why Allison and Deb were already hard at work on the 2021 Divine Live and Online series back in October when the first series hadn’t even finished airing yet. “Really, it’s like planning a Divine trip each month,” says Allison.

Some surprising benefits of going virtual

Besides keeping The Divine Destination Collection fans engaged in new adventures while actual travel isn’t possible, these virtual experiences have led to some interesting benefits.

“It gives us a chance to check out some places we always wanted to travel to, but thought might be too complicated, like India,” says Allison. “It has also added new destinations to our list. After visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza and the fascinating section of Cairo where three of the world’s oldest religions meet – the 9th century Ben Ezra Synagogue, The Hanging Church, where Mary, Jesus and Joseph hid from King Herod, and the El Refai Mosque, we definitely want to plan a trip to Egypt in the future.”

But perhaps the greatest benefit is the ability to take participants to areas of the world few people get the chance to see up close, like the Galápagos Islands. “We can travel to some of the most remote or challenging places on earth and provide a dynamic, first-hand view regardless of geography, political climate, or people’s physical limitations.

“We can also give our virtual travellers the chance to meet amazing people they would never normally encounter, like Zelda la Grange, who worked with Nelson Mandela for 19 years, and Boyd Varty, who had a transformative experience while spending 40 days and 40 nights by himself in the South African wilderness. Our participants can speak directly with these inspiring individuals and ask questions.”

Varanasi, India
Great Pyramids of Giza
Monarchs Michoacán Mexico

Beyond the expected

And just like every Divine Destination Collection trip, each virtual experience includes a unique spiritual element. The upcoming call on March 24th – Take Me to the River… The Ganges and Varanasi – the City of light & Death takes participants to the spiritual capital of India for an up-close view of pilgrims flocking to the sacred Ganges River. Besides washing away their sins in the water, and cremating their loved ones by the shore, some even come to die, as it is believed if you die in Varanasi you break the cycle of rebirth and go straight to heaven. Click here to register for this fascinating look at how death is interpreted and honoured.

Other virtual experiences have celebrated the beauty of nature, such as the monarch butterflies that migrate to Mexico each year during Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, and are regarded as the souls of the departed returning to earth.

Deb and Allison also continue to make a donation to a local charity suggested by the people featured at each destination.

After visiting Cairo and the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx for Pyramid Power in ‘De’Nile… Inside Egypt, a donation was made to the Magdi Yacoub Heart Foundation, which helps fund the country’s Aswan Medical Centre for cardiovascular surgery, treatment and research. And after travelling to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacán, Mexico for The Butterfly Effect – The Majesty of the Monarch Migration, a donation was made to the Monarch Butterfly Fund to help foster the conservation of North American monarch butterflies and their migration.

Remember – if you missed any of the previous Divine Live and Online calls you can still buy membership access to the Zoom recordings and watch them at your leisure.

Geisha on Hanamikoji, Gion District, Kyoto
Varanasi Sadhus

Looking ahead to 2022

Due to the success of Divine Live and Online, Allison and Deb are planning to continue providing virtual adventures even after international travel resumes and might present these virtual experiences in conjunction with the actual trips they will be offering.

In the meantime, to keep you engaged until that magical time when we can all travel together again, a new adventure to Kyoto, Japan has been added for Wednesday, June 30th.

You’ll get to immerse yourself in the elegant Japanese esthetic – from the country’s distinctive architecture and traditional dress, to the incredible explosion of cherry blossoms that blankets the country every spring and go live with a Buddhist Priest to discuss meditation and the Zen way of life. Keep checking Divine Live and Online for more details and registration information.

And don’t forget to register for Take Me to the River… The Ganges and Varanasi – the City of light & Death on March 24.


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