Africa Travel Week
Space Tourism

Space tourism: Is the sky really the limit?

Space tourism is going to change the world – and it’s closer than you think.

Experts insist that practically anyone will be able to travel to space soon. In fact, if you have the cash, you could go right now.

Former President of Virgin Galactic and current President of UKspace, Will Whitehorn, presented an insightful session entitled ‘Space: the final travel frontier?’ at World Travel Market in London last November.

Joining travel journalist Mark Frary, co-author of “The Origins of the Universe for Dummies”, Whitehorn unpacked the concept and feasibility of widespread space tourism, what the future may hold and the various opportunities for the travel and tourism sector in this regard.

Captured in a single sentence, the takeaway from the session was that space tourism had the potential to alter the course of the industry completely, changing the way people view – and participate in – travel.

Read on for a look at where we currently stand and what we can expect in both the near and long-term future.

Types of space travel

There are two main types of space travel: orbital and suborbital. Orbital space travel involves travelling around the earth at such a speed that the spacecraft avoids falling back down. On the other hand, suborbital space travel is where a spacecraft enters outer space for a very short period of time before returning to earth. Due to its affordability, the latter is expected to take the lead in passenger space travel.

That said, there is plenty of talk about full-blown “space holidays”, too. But what exactly would they look like? Picture travellers, with their luggage in hand, checking into an outer space hotel. Crazy, right? Well, believe it or not, a few of these hotels are already in the works. Orbital Assembly’s Voyager Station is one of them, and construction is scheduled to begin in 2026 to welcome guests as early as 2030!

In a recent interview, the brains behind the operation let slip a few juicy details of what lies in store, including the fact that the main goal is to create a sense of warmth and familiarity rather than trying to emulate the clean, clinical nature of space hotels as seen in most movies up until now.

While keen to make the space hotel as “down-to-earth” as possible (pun intended), the team also wants to capitalise on the novelty of holidaying in outer space, such as offering access to activities that involve embracing the weightlessness of the space experience, as well as serving space-themed food in the hotel’s restaurant.  

For many, the prospect of going to space on holiday belongs in a sci-fi or fantasy film, but, as you can see, it’s not all that far-fetched. When air travel became a reality just over a century ago, it was also reserved for the important and the wealthy. Now, a significant portion of the world’s population has flown on an aeroplane at least once, and many travellers do so regularly.

Making history

While there’s plenty on the go as the travel and tourism industry gears up for space travel, a few individuals have already enjoyed the privilege of being the first to experience such an adventure. The world’s first passenger space travel excursion occurred on 15 September 2021 inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon. The four lucky civilian American space travellers spent three days in the earth’s orbit before returning home with plenty to share with their loved ones. 

American investment management billionaire Dennis Tito was another lucky individual who embarked on an adventure in space. In 2001, Tito forked out millions for an eight-day stay on the International Space Station (ISS). 

Anyone interested in following suit and heading to space on their next vacation will need a fair amount of money to cover the costs of their getaway. 

According to The Washington Post, you can book a spot on Virgin Galactic’s space plane for $450,000 per ticket. This incredible expedition will take you approximately 80 kilometres above the earth, which equates to around six times the cruising altitude of an aeroplane.  

Alternatively, wanna-be space travellers can hop on Blue Origin’s rocket for an 11-minute journey, shooting just above the boundary separating earth from space, known as the Kármán line (approximately 100 kilometres above the earth). The heart-stopping experience will set you back a whopping $1 million. 

Space tourism in 2023 will cost a pretty penny, but experts predict it will gradually become more affordable and accessible. They expect it to be a relatively common undertaking by as early as mid-century.

The pros and cons of space tourism for the travel industry 

Space tourism will help to grow the travel industry as we know it today. After all, while people will undoubtedly be excited about travelling into space, they will unlikely feel any less inclined to travel around the earth as they did before. 

Experts believe widespread job creation and investment will be a positive result of the expansion of the industry. Furthermore, the more time people spend in space, the higher the chances of fast-tracking research in various important areas, likely leading to improved technology and many other benefits for the earth and the human race. 

There are concerns surrounding sustainability when it comes to space travel. Luckily, many companies are dedicated to combatting these adverse effects. Space Perspective recently developed Spaceship Neptune, a zero-emissions, carbon-neutral spacecraft. 

In short, the future of the tourism industry is bright, and there are plenty more advancements to look forward to. 

Keen to uncover more of what’s happening and what’s still to come? Visit WTM Africa 2023, taking place from 3 – 5 April at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, for unrivalled insights into the African and international travel sector. 

Register your interest today!

Africa Travel Week

Africa Travel Week (ATW) focuses on inbound and outbound markets for general leisure tourism, luxury travel, LGBTQ+ travel and the MICE/business travel sector as well as travel technology. Shows include: ILTM Africa, WTM Africa, EQUAL Africa, ibtm AFRICA, Travel Forward, Sports & Events Tourism Exchange and African Tourism Investment Summit.