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Apr 2, 2020

Space Tourism: Lessons from Companies on the Next Frontier

With heavyweights like Elon Musk and Richard Branson investing in space tourism, there are a lot of cues the hotel industry can take from this growing field.

This article was originally published on HotelTechReport.

Today’s traveler preferences are changing. Millennials are seeking unique, authentic travel experiences which has led to everything from underwater hotels to the rise of space tourism. Travelers want to fully immerse themselves in new environments whether that’s at the bottom of the sea, in destination or even in space.

Take, for example, SeaDream’s 88-day cruise from Antarctica to the Arctic. The ultra-luxury vessel starts in Ushuaia and travels to stops in South America and Europe before touring the fjords of Norway and heading to the Arctic Circle. It’s just one of the many experiences the travel industry is offering to help people see more of the planet.

For those who have seen all Earth has to offer, the next level of experiential travel is space tourism. It’s a sector of travel and hospitality that’s historically been restricted to the world’s multimillionaires and billionaires. However, we are at “the culmination of two decades of development work that have gone into space tourism,” reported one analyst in Wired Magazine. “And if we’re lucky, we’ll see the birth of an entirely new industry.” As we close out the decade, here’s what you need to know about space tourism and what can hotels learn from the growth of this galactic industry.

This article is a primer for professionals who want to learn about the booming sector.  In it, we’ll cover key concepts of space tourism and then dive into what hoteliers can learn from this innovative new market segment.

What is space tourism?

Space tourism is the travel of humans to space for recreational purposes. To date, space tourism has been restricted to the billionaires among us. Only seven people have paid to go to space before, starting with the multimillionaire Dennis Tito in 2001. Nevertheless, Wired Magazine declared 2019 the year space tourism became a “reality,” citing several private companies – including SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Boeing, and Blue Origin – as leaders in the space tourism industry.

When we talk about space tourism, where specifically do people travel? Space starts at something called the Karman line, a line 100km above Earth’s sea level. This is the commonly accepted boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. That said, the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station and some satellites orbit within Earth’s atmosphere (specifically, the thermosphere) – causing some to argue that these objects aren’t truly in “space.” It’s more useful to think of space as a gradient, the same way the ocean “ends”  at the beach. Tides, waves, and weather all influence where the ocean ends.

Top space tourism companies

Companies in space tourism have largely divided their attention between two regions of space. Some space tourism is sub-orbital, meaning the spacecraft goes into space but not at an altitude at which it can orbit Earth. Sub-orbital flights go up to the Karman line at 100km above sea level. Low Earth Orbit refers to an area between 500km and 2,000km above the Earth’s surface.

Where companies focus their investment depends largely on their goals. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ company, Blue Origin, was founded in 2000 as a sub-orbital spaceflight company. Blue Origin focuses on space tourism and has developed a reusable rocket, New Shepard, which has made the trip to space ten times. Virgin Galactic, founded by Richard Branson, began selling tickets on their space plane this year. More than 700 people have paid between $200,000 and $250,000 for a seat on a six-person flight. Virgin Galactic intends to test flights in 2020.

Comparatively, Elon Musk’s company SpaceX “launched the first 60 of a planned 12,000 satellites into low-Earth orbit” earlier this year. The vision for these satellites is to create a network providing high-speed internet where laying fiber-optic cables would not be economical. SpaceX, along with Boeing, work closely with NASA to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Both companies have a separate division exploring space tourism.

What space tourism has to teach the hotel industry

With heavyweights like Elon Musk and Richard Branson investing in space tourism, there are a lot of cues the hotel industry can take from this growing field.

Travelers want increasingly unique experiences

Tourists are literally willing to shoot themselves into the atmosphere to have an extraordinary travel adventure. But, unique experiences aren’t only limited to space exploration.

“Travelers in this seamlessly connected era, from backpackers to billionaires, want to feel inspired by the places they visit and the people they meet, while pushing past preconceived notions of different cultures, both near and far, to become more dynamic and informed citizens,” describes Skift in an industry report on experiential travel. Hotels can help travelers on this mission by “acting like community portals by introducing guests to popular local experiences,” the report continues.

Concierge software like Alliants can help hotels offer their guests one-of-a-kind tours and authentic travel experiences at a fraction of the price of space travel. Concierge software segments guest patterns and behavior, feeding that data into smart algorithms to provide unique recommendations. For instance, Alliants will discover kid-friendly tours for family travelers, or relaxing couples spa services for a honeymooning couple. Use the software’s messaging tool to send restaurant reservations, tour confirmations, spa bookings, and respond to guest requests seamlessly.

Look to luxury to see where the market is going

“Unique experiences” are often synonymous with “luxury experiences.” Premium travel adventures, like Virgin Galactic and the SeaDream cruise, signal a growing appetite for luxury in the travel sector. The fact that more than 700 people are willing to pay six figures for a seat on Virgin Galactic is telling. Space tourism companies aren’t just sending travelers into the atmosphere in some old space junk. Virgin Galactic’s space mission includes limited-edition space suits designed and crafted by Under Armor.

Experiential innovation usually starts in the luxury sector and moves downstream.  While space travel may not be accessible to the masses anytime soon midscale and economy hotels are able to leverage technology to deliver many of the amenities that were once reserved for luxury properties.  A concierge tool, for example, gives your property the ability to deliver a touch of luxury with minimum extra effort from your on-site staff. Today’s concierge software is so intuitive that you may not even need a dedicated concierge to operate it. “Luxury customers are paying for that recognition. Messaging is a simple method of creating a more inclusive, less formal communication structure where you can capture that information more easily,” notes Alliants co-founder Nick Daniels.

Collaboration is key

Lastly, space tourism proves that collaboration is key. Without a concerted effort across organizations, pushing to new frontiers is impossible. Boeing’s investment in Virgin Galactic, as well as SpaceX’s partnership with NASA, proves that supporting this level of travel exploration is only possible with industry-wide teamwork. The hotel industry is no different.

A cost-effective hotel concierge tool delivers personalization without needing a dedicated team spending 100% of their time catering to guests. Your property’s different tools and systems – from marketing to sales to revenue management – must work together to provide a seamless guest experience. Get the most benefit with concierge software that integrates, like the way Alliants connects with Hapi, Oracle and Knowcross. Messaging also must sync with apps that travelers are already using, including WeChat, WhatsApp, FB Messenger, LINE, SMS or a hotel’s native app.

The Future of Travel

It’s unlikely that you will be going to space next year – unless you’re a billionaire or NASA astronaut. However, the prospect that many of us will experience accessible space tourism in our lifetime is exciting.

Ultimately, space tourism shares many characteristics of regular tourism. Space tourism centers around exploration, curiosity, understanding different worlds, and the drive of today’s travelers to have a unique experience. At its core, space tourism is going to live or die by hospitality. Many hospitality professionals will be amongst the first to blast off into space. A great guest messaging platform like Alliants may not bring your hotel to Mars; but it is likely to deliver an out-of-this-world guest experience that’s lightyears ahead of the competition.

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