14 September 1999
Reports - Tourism (None)
Britain's 1st Space Tourism Survey and World's 1st Airline Survey
University Student Projects Put Space Agencies to Shame
by Patrick Collins
Two students in the Faculty of Tourism at Bournemouth University in England carried out surveys relating to space tourism in the 1998-99 academic year. (In a sign of the times, both students also published their work on the World Wide Web.)

As a final year project, undergraduate Oliver Barrett, planned, implemented, and analysed the results of a face-to-face survey on popular interest in space tourism in Britain - the first ever.

Due to a tight budget (i.e., zero) still sadly typical of all space tourism research, Barrett's survey was only small - less than 100 people - since it is very time-consuming to question members of the public about a new idea. Consequently, taken on their own, the results were not statistically significant. However, they are broadly comparable to the results of earlier surveys performed in Japan, America, and Germany and so can be considered as another sample from the same overall population (as a first approximation).

As such, the survey results confirm that the idea of space tourism is very popular in Britain, too - as is apparent from anecdotal evidence such as the level of interest in space tourism in the British press. Some 60% say they would either definitely or possibly take a trip to space, and most of these want to take a trip of several days rather than a few hours. Barrett does some interesting graphical analyses and comparisons of his data and that from other surveys - showing that there is plenty more interesting analysis to be done on the data that already exists.

For those unfamiliar with the complexities of performing market research using questionnaires, and of deriving reliable information from them, reading Barrett's report will be eye-opening. As a student project, it is partly an exercise in survey planning, performance, and interpretation, and the author discusses the problems of forecasting demand for a new service, matters such as determinants and motivators of demand, and methodological issues (i.e., exactly what procedure to use and what problems result from it) in some detail.

And for those who tend to think of tourism as a simple matter of lying around on beaches, it's useful to remember that this trillion-dollar industry generates considerable demand for expertise in tourism market research among other areas, leading to the establishment of university departments and research careers specialising in these fields.

* * * * * * *

The second report was by Masters degree student Alexis Michalopoulos, who surveyed airlines as to their intentions towards space tourism services in future.

Asking 100 airlines questions about their awareness of and intentions
towards passenger space travel, Michalopoulos obtained a response rate of 19% (which is high for a blind mail-shot) and found that although nearly 80% of respondents had heard of space tourism, less than 40% were interested to learn more. (It is useful to remember that, compared to the nearly $1 trillion/year turnover of aviation today, even with rapid growth, space tourism revenues will probably not reach $1 billion for more than a decade. Personal computers weren't developed by mainframe computer makers - but by small upstart companies. Space tourism seems likely to start in the same way.)

Although the sample was small, so some of the results are only suggestive, the author makes some interesting graphical analyses, and shows cross-correlations, such as between respondents' age and their attitude to space tourism. Like Barrett's report, there is also a discussion of methodology, including particularly the advantages and disadvantages of postal questionnaires. The author also presented a summary of his results in a paper at the 2nd International Symposium on Space Travel in Bremen.


Both surveys are excellent examples of how valuable university research, including even undergraduate projects, can be in this field, due to the lack of work to date. The surveys also point up how bizarre it is that governments spend $25 billion every year on civilian space activities (of which Europe's share is about $6 billion) - yet spend precisely nothing on trying to learn what the public wants them to do!

Ignoring the subject and hoping that it will go away, leaving them in peace to continue spending taxpayers' money on their favourite projects has been the space agencies' main tactic in relation to space tourism to date - until NASA was forced to agree in print that tourism is likely to grow into the largest commercial activity in space.. Can it be much longer now before a space agency actually funds some detailed market research? How long will taxpayers continue to put up with the status quo?

In addition, because Oliver Barrett and Alexis Michalopoulos were the first to do these surveys, and because of the enormous future importance of space tourism (remember - it's going to become the largest commercial activity in space) they've earned places in history - really. There are plenty more such "firsts" to be claimed, though - so students and academics please keep stepping up to the plate.

With a following wind, within 20 years we should see a stream of commercially useful market research papers with titles like "Luxury or adventure? the space travel market segmentation conundrum", "Expectations management and zero-gravity dining", "Zero-gravity experience induction as a destination discriminator" and even "Market positioning among intra-orbit travel service providers". Roll on those happy days!
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Patrick Collins 14 September 1999
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