Friday, March 13, 2009

Space Tourism: Looking for Both Creek and Paddle?

Given our current on-going global economic downturn, does the future of space tourism look promising?

By: Ringo Bones

The sales pitch about the beauty of seeing our planet from 250 miles up (400 kilometers) in space has been the sales pitch of space tourism ever since its pioneering founders took it upon themselves to make the first fiscal steps. Oddly enough way back in time when then US President John F. Kennedy gave his speech about sending a man to the moon before the decade – 1960’s that is – is out. After almost 50 years, are we now closer to a viable space tourism industry?

Probably were still suffering from that 20th Century euphoria of our relatively swift progress on manned flight. It took way less than 50 years from the Wright brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk to the invention of the DC-3 which made affordable commercial – make that tourism – flights possible. As our current state of space tourism still preclude the participation of the casual tourist, will it ever progress from sending a few intrepid billionaires paying 25 million or so US dollars per launch to experience weightlessness to a relatively mundane mass tourism business phenomena?

Basing on recent developments on space commercialization and or possible space tourism, it looks like the United States will have to settle for second place. Back in December 31, 2008, the Scottish National party is calling for a disused RAF airbase in Moray to become the UK’s first commercial spaceport. Together with Virgin Galactic, the RAF Lossiemouth site will probably serve as the birthplace of relatively affordable space flights for the average Joe intrepid enough (probably also financially well-healed) to experience weightlessness or who just want to see first-hand the beauty of planet Earth as seen from space. Even though all of this is too tempting to be ignored by the travel and tourism industry, will space tourism ever become a viable commercial enterprise given that our present “conventional” tourism industry is currently threatened by the global economic downturn?

Even though the global credit crunch will probably delay the establishment of a fiscally viable space tourism industry by a few years, its obvious unique selling points is just too tempting to not be exploited by the world’s established travel and tourism companies. Even though space commercialization via satellite launching services is already a viable private business enterprise for over 20 years, the revenue generated by space tourism or space travel by paying private individuals is still small in comparison to its bigger sibling. Not just to let anyone experience the novelty of weightlessness, it could also provide opportunity for amateur astronomers to see interesting celestial phenomena from the vantage point of low Earth orbit. Imagine a telescope-equipped space tourism “bus” where amateur astronomers can charter for a reasonable fee to witness a total eclipse of the Sun from Earth orbit. Not to mention the other “mundane” experiments that can only be performed in weightless conditions. All of which can be classified under “ignore at your own peril” to the world’s established travel and tourism industry.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Travel Advisories: Politically Motivated Scare-Mongering?

Given that travel agencies rely heavily on the US State Department’s Travel Advisory reports, shouldn’t the US State Department practice a modicum of responsibility in writing these?

By: Vanessa Uy

Like the US State Department’s latest – somewhat sensational – travel advisory warning the GHB spiked-drinks and high incidence of rapes in London’s “unlicensed” cabs and trains, travel advisories like these are more often than not taken at face-value by the various travel agencies around the world. And yet many travel savvy globetrotters have been lately wondering about the absolute truthfulness behind these reports.

Although not alone in publishing their regular series of travel advisory reports, Iran’s state department also published their version of a much-vaunted politically motivated travel advisory report. Highlighting the not-so “Islamic-Friendly” attitudes of major metropolitan cities of the Christian West. Given that travel advisories done under the behest of various state department agencies around the world are not truthful, should travel agencies accept these travel advisory reports at face value? Second of all, should the various state department agencies of the world’s nation-states practice a modicum of responsibility – as opposed to a politically motivated tit-for-tat – in publishing their own travel advisory reports?

Even though in a recent interview, a US State Department representative cites that their travel advisory reports are constantly updated with the cooperation of the local law-enforcement agencies of the various tourism hotspots, the US State Department’s travel advisory reports are primarily aimed at the casual tourist or casual traveler. Crime statistics of major cities are the primary source of data in formulating the US State Department’s regular string of travel advisory reports. Nonetheless, the primary influence of every travel advisory report in our post–9 / 11 world has always been high-profile acts of terrorism. Especially one-time tragic events like the one that occurred in Mumbai last November 2008.

Should state department agencies of the various nation-states around the world exercise a modicum of restraint given that they are the be-all-end-all source of travel and tourism advice / travel safety barometer of the worlds various travel agencies? Sadly, the issue is intransigent enough to defy a simple yes or no answer or a black in white contrast of right and wrong. Politics – especially crude oil industry driven geopolitics – and economic concerns has always has and will be in the foreseeable future the driving force behind travel advisory reports. The safety of tourists only becomes an issue when it is politically expedient – i.e. when it affects the tenure of our elected and appointed public servants.