AVs Could Change the Face of Tourism, Study Suggests

Few of us need to be told that the proliferation of ADAS-packed and, perhaps, ultimately 100% autonomous vehicles will affect a great many industries.

Some of these are obvious (carmaking and e-mapping, to name only two). Some are not. To the latter category belongs the tourism sector. Yet, transport is the glue that holds it together, be it with the planes and ships that bring visitors to new destinations or the buses that take them on city tours.

With that in mind a pair of UK-based researchers, Dr Debbie Hopkins of Oxford University and Professor Scott Cohen of the University of Surrey, recently published a paper on the impact of increasing vehicle automation on the sector. TU-Automotive had a chance to interview Hopkins about the paper, titled Autonomous vehicles and the future of urban tourism, and its findings. Here’s what she had to say.

Q: Why did you concentrate on tourism generally and urban tourism specifically?

“We focused on tourism because there has been limited attention paid to connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs) for tourism purposes to date, while there is a much greater focus by urban/transport scholars. Yet, tourists are already exposed to these technologies by way of trials at airports etc. While intercity offers some uses for CAVs, some of the most interesting and complex applications come in urban environments. There are many issues for urban tourists when it comes to transport around the city and CAVs may offer some interesting/unexpected responses to these and may be used in unforeseen ways.”

Q: What do you feel is the potential most significant positive effect of CAVs on city tourism?

“There is some evidence to suggest that CAVs may help to reduce urban congestion, pollution etc. However, as I said above, this will depend on how they are put to use, by whom, under what constraints, etc. Urban governance actors will have a key role here.”

Q: What might be the most harmful consequences, if we’re not careful?

“Increased congestion owing to business models and rebound effects; two tier transport system which further exacerbates inequalities. For example, public transport systems become even more financially unsustainable and routes are further reduced, thereby, disproportionately affecting low-income communities.”

Q: If fully autonomous vehicles become widespread in cities, do you think their prevalence will encourage or discourage tourism?

“First and foremost, I do not believe that ‘fully autonomous vehicles’ will necessarily become widespread in our cities any time soon. It appears that tourism could change: the spaces of tourism could change, businesses/services could relocate. So, rather than increasing or decreasing, I think it is likely that tourism would be reconfigured with tourists going to different places, travelling at different times, requiring different services, etc.”

Q: Will the impact of CAVs be as strong in lower-income cities around the world?

“This is not clear at this time. In their current iterations, CAVs have quite strict infrastructural needs that may be limited in lower-income cities, however, there are a wide diversity of CAV technologies internationally, and there is nothing to suggest that these will not become available in lower-income cities.”

Q: You write that the impact of CAVs on tourism has been overlooked. Is this owing to negligence, indifference or other factors?

“I think it is because the technologies and their wider social systems are still largely unknown and time-frames are, perhaps, not yet certain enough. At the national scale in the UK there is a great deal of interest and investment in CAV innovation and at the urban/local level it largely relates to experiments that are taking place in UK cities. Tourism academics and practitioners and just starting to get to grips with what may occur.”

Q: What is the chance CAV innovation in the tourism sector will influence commercial development of these vehicles?

“I think that their short- to medium-term experimentation with tourists/at travel/tourism/leisure sites is part of a wider shift for so-called ‘real-world’ testing and experiments. This is a central part of the innovation pathway which goes wider than technology but is part of niche development; allowing for first and second-order learning, building hype and expectations, creating positive discourse, etc. Thus, I think that because perhaps of the containment, largely spatial but also other types, tourist/leisure sites are being used as part of wider commercial development of CAVs.”

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