Development Of Commercial Air Transport And International Tourism


From time immemorial people have always been travelling. Back in the sixteenth and seventeenth Centuries, travels were necessitated by the need to discover new resources, investigate new markets for products and to expand their geographical knowledge. As the decades progressed into centuries, the transport industry kept advancing. This eventually increased the number of people who wanted to travel to other parts of the world because they knew that they had the backing of good transport. As time went by, travelling was organised into a structured environment, what is now called tourism. These days, there are normally seasons that facilitate more travels as tourist activities are usually high during the holidays and it is possible to predict these kind of activities. Some of the dominant regions in which tourism is deeply rooted are North American and Europe. (Davies, 1964)

Tourism had developed vastly in the last three decades. There are plenty of factors that could explain this paradigm shift but the major one is transport development. Statistics show that the number of cross border tourists has doubled from what it used to be in the eighties and seventies. On top of that, in the year 2002, there were over 700 million international tourists; who are about ten percent of the world’s population.

A critical discussion of the contribution of commercial air transport to the development of modern international tourism

Commercial air transport provides the only source of an international transport network. There are about 900 airlines throughout the world. All these contribute about 22,000 fleets of aircrafts. There are about 1,670 airports that have been registered internationally and these are all connected by a route network that stretches for millions of kilometres in the sky. The routes are coordinated by service providers from air navigation; they are about one hundred and sixty in number. No other mode of transport can boast of such a high level of international coordination and organisation. This characteristic has led to the growth of activities that are global in nature and one of them is international tourism. Tourists would prefer a mode of transport that could get them to their destination of choice in the fastest time possible and in an efficient manner. These have been accomplished through efficient coordination. (Richard, 1995)

Other modes of transport are mostly focused on their own countries as they may not be able to transport passengers quickly to their place of choice anywhere in the world, this characteristic is only exclusive to commercial air transport. This implies that it serves as an important contributor to globalisation. When there is an increase in globalisation, there is also an increase in international industrial activities; one of them being tourism. The ability of commercial air transport to cater for the large numbers of international travellers is backed up by the fact that forty percent of all tourists travel using air. The remaining sixty percent is shared by water, road, rail and others. This leaves very small percentages for each.

Commercial air transport has been able to reach areas that have been previously seen to be inaccessible or remote. Before air transport developed to what it is today, most trips mostly dealt with areas that were perceived as highly developed, metropolitan and modern. Seemingly underdeveloped areas were out of reach by most people of the world. They did not know anything about those locations or countries and they could not reach there either. But this has changed rapidly since people can now reach places like the Kalahari Desert in Africa. Journeys to any destination in the world are only discussed in terms of hours and not days or months. There have been new developments in types of aircrafts like jets that travel at speeds of almost two thousand kilometres per hour. This means that one can go to any corner of the world in the shortest time possible. International tourism is based on the principle of social inclusion where countries from any part of the world can be considered as potential tourist destinations. This principle has been intensified through accessibility provided by commercial air transport. This has eventually led to the development of international tourism.

Air transport has been able to facilitate tourism through offering an affordable means of transport. Affordable in this sense implies a transport mode whose price suites the service. Air transport has enabled people to reach their areas of choice n comfort and safety. This is a top priority for most tourists and has therefore enhanced the tourism industry. (Robert & Minnow, 1995)

Tourist activities are an expensive endeavour and as such require the injection of high amounts of revenue. This revenue can only be generated when there is a strong economy which then leaves room for surplus. Commercial air transport has boosted many countries economies. In the year 2006, there were about 29 million new jobs created by the aviation industry. This covers all the direct, catalytic and indirect jobs that came with the sector. On top of that, in the US, there were about 2,960 billion dollars contributed towards their Gross Domestic Product. In Europe, there are there was a major boost in the economy because of the introduction of the European Union as this brought about liberalisation in trade. Air transport accounts for seventy percent of all the business travels that occur globally and for forty percent of the export goods that are taken to other countries. In addition, commercial air transport is also linking economies of the world through opening up those economies for trade and through exportation of the goods or business people. Air transport is an efficient and reliable tax payer; taxes form the main source of revenue for most governments in the world. All these factors have the overall effect of strengthening the economy. This implies that air transport is a strong backbone to economies of the world.  Consequently, strong economies have raised people’s standards of living and have enabled them to engage in a number of leisure activities that form the foundation of the tourism industry.

In conclusion, tourism can be viewed as an economic activity. As such, it is highly dependent on other factors, one of them being cost. The major source of these cost charges is from transportation. This implies that transport is a key element. Modern international tourism is characterised by a need for people to move around in a manner that is fast, efficient and inexpensive. This implies that there should be thorough investments in the system and there should be a high level of organisation. Therefore if schedules have been planned well and terminals are also organised, as is the case with air transport, chances are tourism will receive a boost and there will be growth in the industry. This is exactly what has happened today and is the reason why international tourism has grown to such extents. Statistics have even shown that whenever there is growth registered in international traffic, similar growth is also registered in international tourism (Butler and Keller, 2000)

How the strengths and weaknesses of each mode of transport related to the development of international tourism

Transport is essential in the growth of international tourism. This is because when there are facilities that have been improved in transport, then more and more people are persuaded into the former industry. Tourists need to access their areas of choice and this can only be achieved through transport. There are some tourists who prefer travelling to distant destinations and these may only be achieved through the efficient use of transport modes.

Road transport is one of the choices for use in touring activities. Road transport can either be done through personal cars or through coaches. The main strengths of this means of transport is the fact that one can be able to choose whatever destination they prefer. That is, they can stop whenever they like and go to any location they prefer without having to undergo lengthy transfers. This means that road transport is a flexible mode. Tourists will therefore choose such a means of transport when they want to tour various sites without restrictions. On top of that, road transport is affordable compared to other types of transport. It is a fact that about seventy seven percent of all the journeys made in the world are done through road transport. The main shortcoming of this form of transport is the fact that speed is minimal. One cannot use this means to move from one distant country to another. International tourism applies road transport to a relatively smaller scale when tourists need to move from town to town within a country’s borders. (Doganis, 2001)

Railway was a crucial means of transport during the eighteenth and nineteenth Century. At that time, cars had not yet been introduced and those who wanted to engage in leisure activities in other countries used this means. In modern day, rail is still in use but has been overpowered by other stronger and better means of transport. The major strength of this mode of transport is that it has some international networks and that it is fast especially in some developed regions like Europe where the use of electric trains are common. However, the major shortcomings include the fact that their networks are inflexible; one can only use designated routes thus implying that tourists cannot access certain areas. On top of that, trains have been designed to serve commercial rather than leisure needs. In light of these shortcomings, most tourists use rail sparingly and rail has contributed only partly to the development of international tourism.

Water transport has been a common feature ever since medieval times. Ships and boats were the main sources of transport that opened up certain areas to the world and this is what most geographical discoverers used. During the twenty first Century, water transport is still in use. In relation to the tourism industry, this mode of transport is mainly characterised by cruises. Tourists can be able to entertain themselves within those ‘moving resorts’. Research shows that in the past decade, the number of tourists using cruises or water transport has doubled to ten million. The main strength of this type of transport system is the fact that it can accommodate large numbers of people and can be customised to give travellers a source of entertainment and relaxation. But the main drawback is that it is not appropriate for those who have limited time as it is slow. This is the reason why most tourists prefer them for short journeys. Besides this, water transport can only allow access to areas with a coastal line thus providing a very big shortcoming. This is the reason why most cruises are concentrated in the Mediterranean, Caribbean and South China. All in all, water transport has made a small contribution to the development of the tourism industry because of its limited accessibility and poor speed. (United Nations, 2001)

Air transport as a mode used in tourism is the most important contributor to the tourism industry. This has been brought about by the main strengths of commercial air transport. First of all, it is fast: People travel from continent to continent within hours through this means of transport. It has an organised route; this goes a long way in improving its flexibility. It has many networks throughout the world. This implies that its type of accessibility is very high as remote regions are no longer considered unreachable. On top of that, there are many services provided that makes it worth the price. However, the main shortcomings of this type of transport are threats of terrorism, security threats and stopovers. Stopovers are brought about by the fact that some countries may not be interlinked and it may therefore be necessary to exchange flights. This could lead to some minor inconveniences to passengers. But despite these inadequacies, air transport is still the min contributor to international tourism because it efficiently links countries together and therefore facilitates international travels. (Morrison and Winston, 1997)


There are other modes of transport that contribute towards tourism. Roads have very poorly coordinated networks internationally and there may be areas that lack good road infrastructure. On top of that, travelling by this means of transport is slow. This will act as a deterrent towards international tourism because movement from country to country is hindered. Rail is another mode of transport that has led to international tourism but this was before; currently, rail is limited by its rigid network and the fact that some areas may not have railway tracks. Water transport is also another contributor but has its minor hurdles. One of them being that it is limiting in terms of speed, it has limited accessibility to certain areas because it can only be used for countries that have coastal lines.

Commercial air transport has largely contributed to the growth of the international tourism industry because it has an efficient network across countries. With its twenty thousand fleets all coordinated to different areas throughout the world, tourists can go to any place using this means of transport. On top of that, this mode of transport has a high level of accessibility; remote areas can now be considered as tourist destinations. In addition, air transport is a major contributor towards the global economy and also economies of individual countries. In doing so, air transport has raised the standard of living in many countries thus increasing the number and amounts spent in leisure activities like tourism. (Smith, 2002)

Research has shown that whenever a given country is considered as strong tourist destination, this is normally backed up by the fact the country has also created a strong airline network. For example in a continent like Africa, it is possible to take tourists to secluded safari locations through aviation. Air transport has received such good responses because of the following

  • it is predictable (time and destination)
  • it is organised
  • it has high flexibility and accessibility
  • it is fast ( has the highest speed of all transport modes)
  • it is internationally based (through its network)

All the above factors have boosted international tourism because by its own definition, international tourism negates moving from one country to another. All these characteristics are necessary to facilitate these travels. Most of the other modes of transport facilitate movement within the confines of a country’s borders but present serious flaws internationally. These inadequacies have been dealt with by commercial air transport. (Travel and Tourism home page, 2007)


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