Self-driving vehicles could have substantial and unexpected impact on the tourism sector, according to new academic research from the UK.
The study by academics from the University of Surrey and the University of Oxford suggests that connected, autonomous vehicles (CAVs) could potentially create new tourism experiences and create a range of benefits, but could also add to congestion and cause job losses.
Professor Scott Cohen (University of Surrey) and Dr Debbie Hopkins (University of Oxford), suggest that CAVs could be on roads as soon as 2025 and could lead to far-reaching impacts on urban tourism.
The conceptual paper entitled Autonomous vehicles and the future of urban tourism imagines the impact of AVs in future urban tourism and focuses on the pros and cons of these impacts with regards to the transformation of urban space, the rise of autonomous taxis, and changes to city sightseeing and hospitality in the urban night.
The research says that efficiencies from CAVs could mean reduced traffic congestion and emissions, reduced demand from parking as tourists switch to using CAVs instead of traditional transport. CAVs could also be a safer option instead of tourists driving their own vehicles or hire vehicles, in unfamiliar environments with different driving rules, or where the tourist cannot drive.
The paper notes that CAVs have already been trialled as part of existing transport networks used by tourists, for example, the UK's Heathrow Airport which has tested ‘pods on demand' to carry passengers between the terminal and other transport modes, which the airport says cuts travel time and carbon emissions. Other tourism projects, such as one in Britain's Lake District, see CAVs replacing traditional coach tours.
The study notes that while these autonomous vehicles may be more efficient if managed properly, their introduction could lead to job losses among bus, train and taxi drivers.
In the early stages of adoption, taking a ride in CAV may be a tourist attraction in its own right, but tourists may also find that the experience of using an autonomous pod is not as engaging as for example a taking a ride in London Black Cab, because London taxi drivers offer distinct and unique local knowledge that tourists may struggle to gain from other sources.
The paper also notes that the introduction of CAVs purely to serve tourists may lead to tension with under-served residents in urban areas, and could also add to street congestion.
CAVs may impact other industries in radical ways too. The nightlife economy may find that increased transport accessibility opens up new locations and venues to tourists, but it may also create competition, with for example, autonomous vehicles becoming mobile restaurants offering ‘dinner cruises' and similar experiences.
Other areas of competition may come from tourists sleeping in autonomous vehicles as they are transported between destinations overnight, instead of paying for a hotel stay at the destination.
Professor Cohen, Head of Tourism and Transport at Surrey's School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, said: "This ground-breaking study will benefit urban planners, policy makers and the tourism and hospitality industries, who will face a range of threats and opportunities as AVs begin to reach the mass market in the coming decade.
"The visitor economy will be gradually transformed if AVs become fully automated and mainstream, leading to a future where hordes of small AVs could congest urban attractions, hop-on hop-off city bus tours may go out of business altogether, and motorways between cities could fill at night with slow-moving AVs carrying sleeping occupants."