The Impact of Ultra Long-Haul Flights on Global Tourism
The successful launch of the Qantas non stop service between Perth and London during this week is a major development for one of the world’s leading long-haul airlines. Qantas is not the only airline which operates ultra long-haul flights. Qatar Air (Doha-Auckland), United Airlines (Singapore-Houston) and (Houston-Sydney), Emirates (Dubai-Auckland), Singapore Airlines and United (Singapore-San Francisco), Delta (Johannesburg-Atlanta), Etihad (Abu Dhabi-Los Angeles) are just some of the airlines which have joined the 17 hour long-haul flight club. It is certain that in the very near future the number of airlines and ultra long-haul routes will grow exponentially.
The nature of long haul flights has undergone massive change during the part 30 years. Improvements in airline technology and fuel efficiency led to the operation of non-stop Trans Pacific flights since 1984. The development of the Boeing 787 and the upgraded Boeing 777 and the Airbus A350 and the upgraded A320 are at a stage where 20 hour non-stop flights will be operating by 2020, less than two years into the future. From the perspective of the airlines, ultra long-flights are a welcome development. The longer an airline is in the air, the less its costs per kilometre and ultra long-haul flights are potential money spinners for international carriers. For business passengers especially, Long haul flights, without the inconvenience of stopovers, will enable them to focus on a single destination free of the fear that documents, laptops and smart phones may be lost in an en-route transit lounge.
However, the expansion of ultra long-haul travel will be a testing time for the many destinations which currently rely on stopover traffic. Pacific island destinations such as Fiji, Honolulu and Tahiti faced this challenge in the 1980s. In more recent years popular East and SE Asian destinations including Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok lost stopover traffic to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat and Doha. These same Middle East/Gulf destinations will face the challenge of transforming themselves from stopover points to full destinations and many, including Dubai are well advanced in making that adjustment.
The good news is that many destinations which are now overflown by long haul and ultra long-haul flight have made the transformation from stopover to destination sccessfully. It is also worth noting that some airline passengers are happy to embrace ultra-long haul flight. However, many passengers, especially leisure travellers and those with families will continue to find the idea of breaking a long haul journey with an intermediate stopover a desirable and an integral part of their travel experience. The international airline and tourism market is large enough to accommodate the varying needs of a growing global travel market.
For end of the line destinations such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Latin America, East Asia, USA and Canada the growth of ultra-long haul flights has the potential to generate a major tourist boom. Aviation is entering an exciting phase and this is likely to have some major impacts on global tourism.