Stars in the rearview mirror: The Grand Tour as a guide to the development of space tourism

Mark Ovesny (University of Houston System, Houston, Texas, USA)
D. Christopher Taylor (Conrad N Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, USA)

ISSN: 2516-8142

Article publication date: 8 July 2021

Issue publication date: 4 October 2022

541

Abstract

Purpose

In this paper, the authors argue that the blueprint that was organically developed over the course of approximately three centuries, from The Grand Tour to this day, is likely to see something close to a repeat in the development of that final frontier.

Design/methodology/approach

The study used the methodology of reviewing the literature and model comparison.

Findings

Opportunities will expand and change along the same trends that lead The Grand Tour to evolve into mass tourism, because as in the past people's perceptions about what is possible and reasonable will change the more common such once fictional ideas become reality.

Originality/value

Nothing is in the current tourism literature, on this topic. This is new and unique.

Citation

Ovesny, M. and Taylor, D.C. (2022), "Stars in the rearview mirror: The Grand Tour as a guide to the development of space tourism", International Hospitality Review, Vol. 36 No. 2, pp. 278-287. https://doi.org/10.1108/IHR-03-2021-0025

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Mark Ovesny and D. Christopher Taylor

Introduction

Mention space tourism in polite conversation today and you are likely to be met with polite derision, or expectations of the future predicted by movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey with orbiting hotels and space planes with regularly scheduled service to the same. Few would mention the six private individuals who paid their own way to the International Space Station during the first decade of the 21st century. Others shun the concept entirely, as did Rick Tumlinson, a Space Frontier Foundation cofounder, who dismissed the focus on tourism as a “Tourist is somebody in a flowered shirt with three cameras around his neck” (Foust, 2004, p. 11). But if we look at the historical perspective of the European Grand Tours of the 1600s through 1800s, the current state bears many of the same hallmarks and may have similar potential to change the world again in much the same way that The Grand Tour did.

As Zuelow outlined in A History of Modern Tourism, The Grand Tour was originally intended to complete the education of young men, predominately British, but it created the framework necessary for the creation of the modern tourism economy (2016) that provides 10.4% of global gross domestic product (GDP) annually (World Travel and Tourism Council, 2021). The Grand Tour participants faced hardships during travel that included high costs, slow speeds, poor roads and a high risk of being attacked. The hospitality industry of the day was focused more on the merchant class than on luxury travel, with limited food service options and limited forms of recreation to occupy travelers. These hardships and limitations gradually led to the creation of a worldwide industry focused on the sole pursuit of people indulging in leisure. The current state of space tourism is at the same level as The Grand Tour in the 1700s, i.e. it is the pursuit of the wealthy alone, there is little in the way of accommodations, travel is dangerous and the primary pursuit is more likely to be some greater understanding than indulging in leisure pursuits.

Between 2001 and 2009, seven individuals flew to the International Space Station (ISS) via the Russian Soyuz system: Dennis Tito, Mark Shuttleworth, Gregory Olson, Anousheh Ansari, Charles Simonyi (twice), Richard Garriott, Guy Laliberté, all of whom were either millionaires or billionaires at the time of their flights (Stimac, 2018). As noted by Stimac, Tito's flight costs $20M for an eight-day stay aboard the ISS. These trips were halted in 2011 due to the retirement of the US Space Shuttle, leaving only the Soyuz as a means of access to the ISS, but in June 2019 the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) agreed to resume access for private individuals to the ISS in anticipation of the availability of vehicles from SpaceX and Boeing, and Bigelow Aerospace immediately booked four of the available spots NASA announced, at a cost of$52M per participant (Sheetz, 2019). Compared to an estimated cost of $5,075 for a family of four to visit Disney World for a seven-day vacation (Black, 2013), these trips to the ISS are as out of reach for the average vacation traveler as The Grand Tour was for the average British farmer in 1780. Segreto et al. (2009) note that “[a]t the beginning of the 1880's, no Mediterranean city's population reached one million inhabitants,” but a century later “over 4,500 sq. km. are occupied by tourist accommodation facilities and associated infrastructure” (2009, p. 3). They also note that fourteen cities had grown to over one million inhabitants. This would suggest, at the end of The Grand Tour era, per Zuelow circa 1815, there was little in the way of accommodation in the likes of Italy, Greece, and the south of France and Spain, prime destinations along The Grand Tour route. By the same token today there is no accommodation for space tourists outside of the ISS. Bigelow Aerospace announced plans for the first “space hotels,” that between the two planned structures would offer a habitable volume twice that of the ISS. But these planned structures remain focused on government-sponsored activities first and “tourists” second (Madden, 2018). As NASA notes “The living and working space in the station is larger than a six-bedroom house,” (2019, p. 7). Thus, with the addition of the two planned Bigelow stations, the total of space accommodations would equal approximately an 18–20 room house. Zuelow notes the hardships of traveling from Britain to the European mainland as well as the perils of travel across the continent. Likewise, while there may not be the pirates and storms of the English Channel to contend with, and no worries of getting stuck in the mud or waylaid by brigands in space, space travel is dangerous. As Borestein noted in 2014, depending on which events are considered as space travel-related deaths (see Table 1 for events and related fatalities), somewhere from a minimum of eighteen to perhaps multiple hundreds of people have died since Yuri Gagarin became the first person to travel to space in 1961 (Borenstein, 2014). These deaths are not limited to the initial stages of the Space Race era of the 1960s but are spread from 1967 and the Apollo 1 launch pad fire and Vladimir Komarov's failed reentry due to a faulty parachute, through the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle accidents of 1986 and early 2003, and on to the Virgin Galactic test flight failure in 2014. Orbital Space Systems suffered an unmanned booster explosion in 2014 (Wall, Private Orbital Sciences Rocket Explodes During Launch, NASA Cargo Lost, 2014), and SpaceX suffered the same in 2016 with the same launch vehicle design intended to carry their crewed Dragon capsule to the ISS (Whitwam, 2016). Due to the expense of getting to the limited available accommodations aboard vehicles that are still inherently dangerous, it stands to reason that the primary pursuit once in orbit is more likely to be focused on research or commercial development than indulging in leisure pursuits, just as The Grand Tour initially focused on education and making financial or political connections more than on the more hedonistic pursuits. Each of the seven private ISS travelers between 2001 and 2009 pursued some research opportunity while in orbit, with little more to do in the way of leisure than trying out “space gymnastics” and watching the Earth, Moon and stars form the ISS Cupola or Window Observation Research Facility. Review of literature Zuelow's work (2016) continues past The Grand Tour to explore how technology, broadly defined as the application of new knowledge and methods, during the second “phase” of tourism development (Technological Development), allowed the creation of new opportunities for others to participate in travel, albeit in much shorter bursts than The Grand Tour. The 1820s introduction of steam railways helped to beget the development of package tours by Thomas Cook and others, and an explosion in the level of publication of guidebooks, especially for the new areas opened by the development of the train. Likewise, the codification and creation of certain bureaucracy due to the rise in the 19th century of more homogenous empires and nations made travel simpler in the regards of only having to deal with a single central authority for a larger region compared to the piecemeal principalities that had ruled over large areas of Europe. The creation of these new nations also fostered the desire to see other parts of the world in part to compare how people lived in different nations. Following the two World Wars, tourism then entered the phase of what we observe today, Mass Tourism open to everyone in some form. Today much more of the world's population can travel to points distant from their home to enjoy time pursuing their personal interests or simply spending time away from the labors of daily life. This change is, thanks to improved technology, whether improved air travel or personal automobiles and better roads, and a continued rise in personal wealth levels around the world coupled with the increasing availability of travel, accommodations and dining at a range of price points. Cole (2015) presented the development cycle of space tourism as a planning exercise for hospitality classes, but in so doing outlined the same broad brushstrokes that the industry will have to traverse to go from an experimental endeavor restricted to spacefaring nations to one of mass appeal and applicability for the citizens of all nations. He uses the phased breakout as developed by Spacetourism.com to classify the development as Pioneering, Mature and Mass, which correspond well to The Grand Tour evolution as outlined by Zuelow. In the Pioneering phase, participants will be more adventurers than tourists, with limited accommodations and opportunities for activities. Cole sees Mature phase participants experiencing a price drop of at least a full order of magnitude, as well as increased availability of flights, although he sees a relatively slow expansion of accommodations. Finally, in the Mass phase, he anticipates larger facilities in orbit to accommodate a passenger population in the hundreds of thousands to millions. He cites a 1993 survey from Japan that indicated participants would pay three months' salary to travel to orbit, and a 1995 Americans survey showing a willingness to spend in excess of$10,000 on average for a space cruise. No definition was provided for the length or expected activities of this cruise.

Johnson and Martin's (2016) paper focused more on the forms of mobility that will open this new realm to more people. They note that safe, efficient, reliable but flexible launch systems are the desired outcome of the current development efforts by the likes of SpaceX and Blue Origin. They importantly note that beyond just the launch systems themselves a complex web of legal and political agreements will be required to utilize whatever system ultimately meets those goals, in the same manner that aircraft did following their development in the early 20th-century. They define three primary regimes from previous studies and the popular press: Citizen Space Exploration, Personal Spaceflight and space tourism. They argue the first is most focused on creating an egalitarian availability not only with regards to access to space but to the possible pursuit of scientific endeavors in space, free of the current limits that allow only the wealthy or government-sanctioned from performing these pursuits. The second classification is focused primarily on the development of a lifestyle akin to personal trainers or personal assistants and reserved largely for those with the wealth or connections to enjoy such a lifestyle. The third definition, space tourism, while potentially encompassing the first two ideas, more clearly delineates the anticipated generic mass-market tourism industry (e.g. space cruises) that would be available to a large segment of the population. They presented previous research which highlighted the quandary that such mass-market activities in space would result in a moved body rather than a moving body, but fail to connect that this phenomenon is very present today in packaged tours and cruises where people follow predetermined itineraries, and as in The Grand Tour days, must “see the sights” without thought to what those sights mean to them or in the larger context of the human experience. Zuelow's evaluation of The Grand Tour noted the Tour's impact on shaping the way that people viewed the world as the Industrial Revolution began and allowed them to welcome in the age of rational thought over the predominant religiosity that had characterized previous ages. Johnson and Martin similarly note how the development of aircraft and air travel created a new understanding amongst nations and peoples; and created a new paradigm of how nations interacted with one another, as well as how people of those nations adopted new views of each other. Collins and Autino (2010) considered in part the related phenomena of what the unintended impact could be from a space tourism industry, including environmental protection and, in the extremis, world peace. While that lofty goal may not be met, the idea that the environment might be better understood by those traveling to space, similar to Zuelow's characterization of The Grand Tour's impact on changing how people viewed their world, is furthered by the impact of Apollo 8 and the famous Earth Rise picture taken during that mission. As Scimecca noted in 2017, “Humans saw their planet for the first time as a whole world. Not as continents or oceans, but an entire entity” (2017, p. 3). Given that a single picture is credited with the birth of the current environmental movement, it would stand to reason that having a large multitude of humanity witnessing firsthand the fragility of the Earth would have a significant impact on how they then pressured their political leaders to act with regards to other nations and the whole of the planet.

The expected path forward

By comparing the three models presented by Zuelow, Cole/Space.com and Johnson & Martin, a possible outline of Space Tourism development can be created. As outlined in Table 2 each of the models presents three epochs or phases, which closely align with one another. During Phase 1 all three models expect high costs to limit participation to the wealthy, with limited options for accommodations and activities. Phase 2 sees an increase in participation by something akin to the middle class, with increased availability of accommodations and activities, but still restricted in comparison to the options available in Phase 3. The final phase of each model opens the experience to the widest possible audience with regards to financial means and offers more options regarding accommodations and activities, as well as accommodates the purpose to be less focused on achieving a particular goal and more focused on leisure.

The World Economic Forum's Global Future Council on Space Technologies projects that Hospitality and Real Estate services will generate $37bn in the decade of the 2020s (Landon and Schneider, 2017). Today, private citizens have flown to space on government-developed vehicles to a government-developed outpost. Billionaires such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Robert Bigelow are developing the necessary technologies to allow private citizens to fly on vehicles that are largely developed at private expense to privately developed and owned outposts in space. Science fiction is becoming science fact, and as with much of the technological development since the industrial revolution, the creation and adoption of this new technology will be much faster-paced than what came before it. The space tourism field is likely to see the same patterns as were present in the March from The Grand Tour to modern Mass Tourism. This will see programs that have historically been controlled by national governments become at first the purview of the ultra-wealthy who are likely to use their time in space to conduct some type of research to expand their business or personal interest, or pay for someone else's access to do the same. Once appropriate technology is developed to allow the more affluent (i.e. the US upper middle class and their international counterparts) access to space that same technology will allow greater accommodations to be provided and is likely to also benefit from the leading edge of a new space-based industrial base. With additional development of not only the technology to continue to reduce the cost to access space, but also to provide more of the logistical support from non-Earth based sources something more akin to today's mass tourism is likely to develop. These phases are not likely to require the 3 to 400 years that were necessary to progress from The Grand Tour to Mass Tourism due largely to a higher technological starting point. Failing to note all of these changes and considering what options exist to take part in the development of this new industry may relegate companies that are well-known in the hospitality industry today to be locked out of this new realm in the future or having to play catch-up with their counterparts who are taking part in these early days. The movie 2001: A Space Odyssey imagined a future where the largest station in orbit around the Earth included a hotel ran by Hilton. In reality, Budget Suites of America founder Robert Bigelow spent his personal wealth over the course of a decade to transform an idea originally developed by NASA into an operational vehicle that has been demonstrated on the International Space Station and forms the basis for Bigelow Aerospace's proposed private space station. He holds the exclusive license to this technology (NASA, 2013), which means competitors would have to spend their own money on a completely new technology, likely over the course of the next decade, to bring their own stations or hotels into operation. There of course is no crystal ball to identify what the exact path ahead is for this new field, but there are several trends that can inform the broad ideas to be pursued. If the original Grand Tour was focused on seeing the sights of antiquity this new incarnation is likely to want to see the sights available as well. Amongst the most easily identifiable of these are a space-based sunrise, Earthrise seen from the Moon or its orbit, the Apollo landing sites and the major craters of the Moon. How to provide access to these or best accentuate a guest's experience of them needs to be considered. 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Corresponding author

D. Christopher Taylor can be contacted at: dctaylor@uh.edu