The advent of the hypersonic tourist
The advent of the hypersonic tourist
05 FEBRUARY 2020 9:13 AM

Hypersonic travel could become a reality in the next several decades and have a lasting effect on travel times and accessibility of remote destinations.

As a Gen-Xer, I belong to the age group that witnessed the launch of the first ‘affordable’ home computer.

I remember my dad coming home with a 48k ZX Spectrum in the early 1980s and downloading tragically basic computer games from a cassette player. That was 37 years ago, but it seems like only yesterday. I now have a household full of children of my own who are the age that I was when we unpacked that first computer—one generation later. But it’s fascinating to speculate what technological changes will have taken place by the time they reach my age.

It seems that technological advances are touching every nook and cranny of our lives and our work, but this article focuses on one particular innovation that will impact the hotel development sector that may not be on your radar just yet—though maybe it should be?

I work in the field of resort feasibility analysis and spend a disproportionate amount of my time discussing site accessibility and the likely profile of visitor demand with my hotel developer clients. History suggests that the easier a hotel is to get to, the better, so the issue of how long it takes visitors to travel door to door is one that always commands a good deal of attention. Travel time considerations have a bearing on who the guests are likely to be and consequently what products and services are required. It’s also commonly accepted that there is a correlation between the time that people will travel and the length of the time that they are prepared to stay. (Generally, you will travel for longer for a two-week break than you will for a long weekend.) But here’s the kicker; technological advances may well put a sizeable spanner in the works when we look ahead to the likely travel patterns of Generation Alpha (the term used to describe those born after 2010). The spanner that I’m referring to, which you could also argue is an opportunity, is the advent of hypersonic travel.

A hypersonic jet plane is one that can travel at Mach 5 (five times faster than the speed of sound). Travel at this speed will enable flight times between London and New York of two hours; that’s one hour quicker than it took Concorde, which had its last flight 16 years ago. The flight time from London to Sydney would be just four hours. While the technology that will enable these flights is currently being developed for predominantly military applications, companies such as Boeing are already looking to the future where hypersonic flight is available for commercial travel. Current estimates are that this reality may not be as far away as we think, with estimates ranging from between 20 and 30 years.

The idea of a day trip to New York for a meeting would be a reality, and another quirkier, but cool aspect of hypersonic flight will be “time travel.” If you left Sydney at 8 p.m., you could feasibly arrive in London at 1 p.m. on the same day, giving you seven extra hours to play with. It remains to be seen what would happen regarding jet lag, but it is unlikely that going faster would make it any easier on your body.

It is fascinating to speculate how the advent of hypersonic travel will impact the hotel development sector. For example, traditionally isolated locations such as Australia will be opened up to weekend travelers from Europe, and huge source markets in Asia will only be a few short hours from anywhere on the globe. The opportunities that this increased global connectivity will enable could be significant, as could the potential impacts.

Developers and operators will have to rethink their marketing campaigns, and product and service delivery will require a much broader focus. Suddenly, the whole world will be on your doorstep. It’s likely that differentiation in this new paradigm, where the whole world is so accessible, will be achieved through anchoring a hotel development deeply into its local context, history and culture. So much will be homogeneous that indigenous design and service delivery will become increasingly important.

Inevitably, the potential opportunities associated with hypersonic travel must be considered in the context of responsible, sustainable living. We live in the era of “flight-shaming,” and hypersonic jets don’t sound particularly ‘green’ as a concept. But in a world where Formula E cars can now give their cousins in Formula 1 a real run for their money, I am confident that the coffins in the R&D departments will have cracked large-scale electronic aviation within the next decade, along with fully pilotless flight. But that’s a whole other subject.

Ben Martin has a considerable catalogue of experience as a consultant focusing on real estate economics, with a particular emphasis on resorts, residential, leisure and mixed-use development. He has completed projects across a broad range of countries in Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa and his clients have included government organisations, leisure and entertainment providers, property development companies, financial institutions, development corporations and local authorities. Mr Martin is involved at all stages of the study process, from preliminary site reviews to the design and development of tailor-made financial models that reflect the recommended development programme for the project. Having gained more than two decades of experience as a consultant in this sector, he now plays a key role in the management of project research and economic appraisal within the Hospitality Advisory Group at HKS Inc.

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