Space tourism as “the final undiscovered frontier”?

A survey released yesterday by World Travel Market, a UK-based travel industry event organization, offers a somewhat pessimistic take on the space tourism market. The study, based on a poll of 1,030 Britons who took a summer vacation in 2009, found that only 27% said they would be interested in traveling into space; 50% said they were not and 23% said they might be interested. In addition, 74% said “they feared space travel would remain too expensive and exclusively for the super rich”, and only 4% thought it would became an “affordable mass-market travel product” within 30 years.

The numbers at first glance don’t sound promising: the press release leads off by claiming that “price concerns are turning holidaymakers off from becoming space tourists”. However, the numbers aren’t that surprising. First of all, the poll doesn’t appear to have limited their polling to people with the means to pay for a spaceflight at currently-planned prices. Second, the numbers aren’t that different from previous polls that did put such limits on respondents: for example, the 2002 Futron/Zogby poll found that 19% of people with the means to pay for a space tourism flight were either “definitely” or “very” likely to take a suborbital spaceflight (a number that rose to 28% when given a more rosy description of such a flight). Even that more pessimistic number resulted in a forecast of thousands of potential tourists a year after just a few years of operation.

“It’s disappointing holidaymakers fear they will be priced out of becoming space tourists,” Fiona Jeffery, chairman of World Travel Market, said in the release. “However, I’m confident the price will drop dramatically the more space tourism takes off.” Even if there isn’t a dramatic drop in prices, though, there’s still a potentially lucrative market to be tapped.

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