A predicted 1 billion international tourists in 2012 illustrates global mobility

The UN suggests international tourism will hit a new high in 2012:

The U.N.’s World Trade Organization says 1 billion people will cross international borders as tourists this year for the first time…

That figure would be about 4 percent higher than last year’s total. Back in 1950, the figure was 25 million. The UN counts only people who stay at least one night. It does not include cruise ship passengers.

“It is quite iconic when you realize 1 billion people crossed borders,” Vogeler said at a Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association conference in Puerto Rico. “It shows from a sociological point of view how things have changed. If you go back 20-30 years, many people would die without traveling more than 100 miles from home.”…

The organization also projects that there will be 1.4 billion in 2020 and 1.8 billion in 2030.

Some of the sociological factors behind this:

1. More people with income that allows them to travel internationally. Such travel is not cheap but with rising incomes and a growing middle class in developing nations, there are more people who can travel. In other words, more people can afford to travel.

2. A growing cultural emphasis on the value of tourism and seeing different parts of the world. Perhaps part of this is due to more widespread information about other parts of the world. Or perhaps it reflects an idea that a well-rounded person is an international traveler. Regardless of the specific reason, this would mean more people want to travel.

Of course, other factors like cheaper and quicker transportation matter as well as a growing interest many countries (and cities) have in growing their economies through tourism and “selling” their attractions to visitors.

On the whole, I imagine the United Nations would want to promote this quite a bit. More international travel suggests more money will be flowing across borders and more international understanding is possible.

A world where people can travel between any two cities in two hours

Basic modes of transportation have not changed much in the last half-century. Sure, planes are bigger, cars are more fuel efficient and have more features/gadgets, and trains can go faster. But harnessing space travel could make it possible to move between any two cities in the world in two hours:

Michiel Mol, 42, a Dutchman who co-owns the Force India Formula One team and made his fortune in computer software, said over the weekend, “Being able to travel from London to Sydney in an hour and 45 minutes, that is the future. It is also the reason why KLM joined our firm [Space Expedition Curacao, or SXC] as a partner.”…

Mol intends to follow [Sir Richard Branson] in early 2014 and says he has already sold 35 tickets at $93,000 for flights from the Caribbean island of Curacao. Regulatory approval is still under negotiation…
Passengers, who will be entitled to call themselves astronauts if they reach an altitude of 62 miles (100km), will be required to pass physical tests which he says are no more stringent than would be expected of an air steward. The first generation spaceship will travel at 2,200mph (3,540kph), but the second generation will need to reach a velocity of 13,750mph (22,100kph) to achieve the desired orbit…
“Flying from London to Barcelona would still take an hour or so while London to Tokyo would be about one hour and 30 minutes and London to Sydney, one hour and 45 minutes. “

This sounds like something different than just space tourism where wealthy people take off, float weightless for a short while, snap some pictures of the earth while in a quick orbit, and then descend. This could be the basis for a new transportation system that makes traveling from New York to China just like a drive from Chicago to Milwaukee. It would take some time to set up a viable system, to put the infrastructure together, but this would be a big step forward from the Dreamliner and high-speed rail.

Is this the physical answer to the “instant” connectedness of the Internet? Currently, it still takes a decent amount of time to travel between major cities but it is still valuable for business, politics, and deeper relationships.

Beyond space commuting, what could be quicker? A mass-produced flying car? Teleporting?

And Americans vote again for the automobile

Surveys from AAA suggest Americans will be traveling by car in record proportions for Thanksgiving:

Next week, 94 percent of Thanksgiving travelers nationally are expected to drive — up from 86 percent in 2008 and 80 percent in 2000, according surveys conducted by AAA.

The air-travel share is projected at 3.8 percent this Thanksgiving, the lowest figure in a decade. Air travel accounted for 13 percent of Thanksgiving travel in 2000, AAA said.

A quick interpretation might be that people are fed up with airport security. But interestingly, these surveys were conducted before the TSA announced more intrusive search procedures:

AAA officials noted that the data on Thanksgiving travel, which are based on the plans of people surveyed, were collected before the TSA announced it was switching to more intensive pat-downs of airline passengers and increased use of the full-body scanners.

“Those folks who said, ‘I’ve had it with the airport hassle and I’m traveling by auto,’ did so before the TSA’s new rules were put in place,” said Beth Mosher, spokeswoman for AAA Chicago. “We’ve seen a lot of people grousing. It’s hard to say if people will eventually get used to the changes. We’ll know more once we see Christmas travel numbers.”

I haven’t seen these survey figures and whether they ask people specifically why they chose the travel mode they did.

But I’ll quickly offer another take: Americans don’t need much of an excuse to travel by car. Our love affair with the car (or more appropriately for family travels this weekend, the SUV or minivan) is well-established and could be an important factor in this story. Ultimately, travel within a certain radius (roughly 6-14 hours of driving one way) could either be done by airplane or car (or as some hope, by faster trains in the future). Certain factors, such as ticket prices, weather, availability, gas prices, and other odd factors, such as new airport security measures, can push people back to their vehicles which they might have been reluctant to leave behind anyway.

The importance of perceptions: thinking about the golden age of flying

There seems to be a lot of grousing about air travel these days, particularly with a flood of recent stories about full-body scanners and more aggressive pat-downs. These complaints raise a question: is flying today more troublesome and less glamorous than in the past? Some experts say today is actually the golden age for flying:

Whether it’s fees, crowded planes, no food or surly service, people will complain about the current state of air travel.

They’ll talk wistfully about the good old days of flying, of a bygone era when a glamorous stewardess delivered white-glove service with a smile, they had meals with real silverware and a courtesy cocktail was offered free on such carriers as Pan Am, TWA, Braniff or Eastern.

The so-called golden age of air travel in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s has passed, they’ll say, just as those airlines have.

But has it? No, say some veteran fliers and industry analysts. With historically affordable fares to nearly everywhere, greater options for service if you’re willing to pay, and new information and entertainment technology, there’s never been a better time to fly, they say.

So some experts that suggest by some objective measures, such as price and service level, flying is now better than it was in the past. But the issue really seems to be whether passengers feel that this is the case. And this is what matters for airlines – if potential customers perceive that flying is difficult and then choose other forms of travel, these perceptions are real indeed.

What could be going on here? A few thoughts:

1. Memories and nostalgia are tricky things. People can romanticize the past and forget the troubles they experienced then.

2. Some of the security procedures instituted after 9/11 seem to irritate people. It adds an extra level of hassle and can make people feel like they are not trusted. On the other hand, there has not been a major airline incident in the US since 9/11.

3. Service and entertainment options may have increased but perhaps passengers expect even more. Does having more entertainment options offset sitting in cramped airplane seats?

4. I would be curious to know how many people actually enjoy flying versus feeling that it is the best, or perhaps only, transportation option to get them where they want to go.

h/t The Infrastructurist

Extra airline fees are here to stay

All those fees recently enacted by airlines are adding up and they are likely here to stay. The Chicago Tribune reports that ancillary revenues reached $13.5 billion in 2009. United Airlines led the way by collecting $1.9 billion.

On our recent trip to California, we paid $25 a piece for two bags on each leg of our American Airlines flight. The fares were reasonable – but adding on the extra $100 for luggage squelched any joy produced by finding a decent deal.