Over centuries some of the world’s biggest and most influential cities sprang up around ports: London, New York, San Francisco. More recently whole economies began to spring up around airports. Tourism followed the same path, with a port and then an airport a prerequisite to receiving visitors.
Could all of this be about to change with the advent of eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) taxis? How we travel and explore the world is about to change forever. Hoteliers need to take note or risk being left, rather ironically, up in the air.
Why do small, vertical takeoff flying vehicles make such a difference? Because airports require massive amounts of space and regulation and cost to build, and they need to be relatively close to the main city to make any sense. And if you want to travel long distances, you don’t have any option but to use your local airport as the starting point.
By contrast vertical airports require a tiny amount of space (usually around 80 meters in diameter), and any noise impact is low compared with conventional airplanes or helicopters due to eVTOLs being 100% electric. Assuming you use renewable energy sources, they have zero emissions and, as they are electric, they also do not impact air pollution.
This means that a major city could have dozens or more such points of departure and arrival, with one urban airport having capacity for potentially hundreds of passengers a day. It also means that if your departure or arrival point is not in a city, you can quite likely land or take off right on (or near) the doorstep.
How many city break trips are based around someone actually stopping off whilst on their way to somewhere else? Or hotel stays near an airport based around a stopover flight or just to ensure they are at the airport on time? These stays could be a thing of the past for some, and hoteliers with city and airport-based properties should take note.
But flying taxis sounds a bit futuristic, right? We might not even see such a space aged-based transport system? Recently I had the pleasure to visit the first urban airport from a company called Urban-Air Port. They had their first operative airport in Coventry in the United Kingdom as part of a global roadshow, demonstrating just how such airports work. It was quite a mind-blowing experience.
Meanwhile, United Airlines recently paid a deposit of $10 million on 100 air taxis from electric vertical aircraft manufacturer Archer. And even a spin-off from Embraer already has over 3,600 drones ordered and in production for delivery worldwide next year.
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Approval for public use, as short-haul taxis, is yet to come in major markets, but the consensus appears to be this will eventually happen as major airlines besides United have signed similar deals. Indeed, thousands of such vehicles have been ordered.
It is quite likely, however, that there will be many fixed routes, just like airplanes and trains, with departures pre-scheduled. This makes it paramount to get involved now if you desire to have an airport close to your property or on your property. Hoteliers could ask for permission to place these urban airports on top of buildings, or lobby to have them in a public space close by – or even floating on the sea in the case of resorts.
The planned eVTOLs can take one pilot and four passengers. Initially they will be piloted, but the goal is to pilot them remotely making them completely autonomous and increasing total capacity to five. In terms of pricing, the goal is to be twice the price of a fast train, but as we all know in the beginning the demand will be a lot higher than the offer, so at the very beginning prices could be at a premium.
There’s also one other important change that eVTOLS will have on the travel industry. While engineers measure distances in terms of kilometers or miles, real people measure distance in terms of convenience, the pleasantness (or not) of the trip, and most importantly time.
If you can get into the center of a city in a pleasant air taxi ride in minutes (versus an hour in stop-and-start traffic) then the need for a hotel “walking distance” from the sights becomes less relevant. This will drive down prices massively, as hotels previously far from the center begin competing for the same guests. Think carefully about that next urban hotel you might be considering opening.
So what should hotels do to respond to this massive change? Ensuring you have your own vertical airport on, or very near to, the premises of all your properties is an obvious answer.
Guests are sure to prioritize such properties when booking, and this will become a filter category in any search. You might even be able to make revenue from charging for access to non-guests or your competitors and charge premiums for the convenience to be close to an urban airport.
When it comes to marketing and sales, this will also require developing a whole new mindset. Not only will this dent prices indefinitely for centrally located properties (and perhaps lift them for suburban city properties), it also means that your property can now attract a wider range of guests who are no longer limited to the previously restrictive flight corridors.
For example, the Balearic Islands in Spain are currently off-putting to domestic mainland Spanish tourists because of the need to either fly or travel by boat. When a vertical air taxi from Zaragoza to Mallorca is cheaper and easier than driving to Tarragona, Mallorcan hotels can start targeting residents in Zaragoza.
How soon should hoteliers react to this change? Right now would be our advice. Sticking your head in the sand is never a solution to a problem, not least as on this occasion the future isn’t ahead of you. It’s above you.