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Along with manufacturing, retail and banking, the travel industry will be a fundamental engine of future globalisation. Human beings are genetically programmed to travel as hunter-gatherers, and have an irresistible urge to explore. Therefore, whatever happens to the global economy, and in other world events, we can expect the number of people travelling each day to grow dramatically as wealth increases, and as real costs of transport continue to fall.

The greatest growth in travel will be in Asia, and in people from Asia visiting outside their own region. We will see a dramatic increase in the number and size of regional airports, high-speed rail networks, and new roads. 

Future of Rail – high speed, long distance

Twenty-four nations have already built high-speed rail links, and the length of high-speed track is doubling every decade. At present 98% of all trains running faster than 195km/hour are found in Western Europe or East Asia (90% in China, France, Japan, Germany, Italy, UK and Spain combined), but high-speed rail will become more widespread. 

In a decade, China built over 10,000km of high-speed track to become the world leader. Much of this was imported technology, with trains from companies like Siemens. However, the next wave of expansion will be almost entirely Chinese, and Chinese rail expertise will be exported globally. 

Future investment in high-speed rail will be held back in Africa by unrest, in Russia by economics, in the UK by planning restrictions, in China as the backbone of a national service is completed, in Latin America by economic uncertainty, and in the US by a culture that prefers planes and cars.

Expect a boom in low-tech, rapid transport in cities, with automated ‘light railways’, or trams, or buses on special concrete tracks. These will be built rapidly, at relatively low cost, on pillars above streets, as tracks weave their way around cities.

Numbers of rail travellers will grow much faster in most countries than growth in capacity, so trains will become longer, double-decker, more crowded and more frequent.

Future of aviation and air travel

Expect boom-time for aviation – with short-term blips caused by recessions, regional conflicts, threat of viruses or other adverse events. The number journeys each year has grown ten times over the last 40 years to over 3 billion. Expect this to increase to 6.4 billion by 2030 (barring a major setback such as a global viral epidemic). 

Most growth of aviation will be in Asia, and least in Europe / North America. Europe will see huge growth in long-haul visitors arriving from Asia, particularly from China and India. Chinese tourists travelling outside their country will double to 200 million a year by 2020, and their spending on vacation will triple, especially on luxury goods.

Boeing is sitting on a backlog of orders for over 5,100 planes valued at around $400bn, while Airbus has orders to build 5,600 planes, worth even more. Engine-maker revenues alone will be more than $1 trillion over the next 20 years. Over 70% of engines today are made by GE or CFM, GE’s joint venture with Snecma in France, just another example of monumental scale in a globalised world. 

Britain is the second-largest aerospace manufacturer after America, with 17% of the global market, and is home to 30% of Europe’s Eurospace firms – Rolls Royce engines are used in half of all the world’s new wide-bodied jets, BAE makes fighter jets and AgustaWestland makes helicopters.

While virtual working, video calls and other technologies will grow, they will not be enough to prevent growth in absolute terms of business travel, as I predicted a decade ago. Business budgets will be capped, however, or cut, forcing business travellers to hunt for bargain flights, flying economy as a general rule unless long haul.

Cheaper flights in real terms

The aviation industry was changed profoundly by new budget carriers, who completely re-invented the process of selling tickets, filling and emptying planes. Expect all major budget airlines to begin to offer premium features copied from traditional airlines, such as allocated seats, a free drink in-flight, free luggage allowances. This will attract increasing numbers of business travellers.

European budget airlines will carry more than 50% of all air passengers by 2030. As a result, all traditional airlines will be forced to radically alter how they work. Expect mergers of national carriers, and new global mergers.

Flying on less fuel – but most things look the same

New planes will become more efficient, and will fly with fewer empty seats. Flights will use less fuel per passenger because of smarter air traffic controls (including ‘free routing’ to allow pilots to fly directly from A to B, saving 10 minutes per flight on average), and shorter circling times around busy airports. Expect continuous GPS tracking of all commercial flights by 2018.

However, planes will look almost identical in 25 years’ time, because of fundamental limitations imposed by aerodynamics, passengers and freight-handling. Indeed, aviation has gone backwards in some ways since the launch of Concorde in 1969, flying passengers between 1974 and 2003 at supersonic speeds of up to 1,334 miles per hour (2,140km/h), at a maximum height of 60,000 feet (18,300m).

Passenger experience will hardly change at all over the next 30 years. Most planes built in the last 40 years have a life expectancy of more than 30 years, or more than 30,000– 40,000 flights. So most passengers in 2030 will be flying on planes that were already in use in 2015, maybe designed decades earlier. Jumbo jets were first built in 1969, for example, and some will still be used for long haul in 2025.

Future of cars: cheaper, faster, cleaner, smart

More than 1 billion cars are on the roads today. But we would need to see that rise to 4 billion for the whole world to have the same level of car ownership as America. 

Most new car owners will be in emerging markets over the next 50 years. Chinese people are driving 150 million cars, many owned by 40,000 car rental companies. Private car ownership in China jumped from 1% to 19% from 2002 to 2011, with 150 million new cars sold in 2015, 

Around half the population in the Philippines and Indonesia do not yet own a car, compared to only 3% in Malaysia, where 53% of households own more than one vehicle. In Thailand and Indonesia 80% of consumers intend to buy a vehicle in the next two years, and in most cases this will be the first car they have ever owned.

We will see significant increases in fuel efficiency, with use of nanotech coatings for all moving parts, and many other advances in engineering, as well as lighter vehicles. These gains will undermine (but not halt) the growth of pure electric vehicles.

Electric cars have taken off more slowly than many manufacturers and governments hoped, held back by expensive batteries. However, battery price per kilowatt hour is set to fall rapidly. New types of battery will be lighter, more efficient, with faster charging and longer life. Some Tesla cars already have a battery life of 400 miles and 600 miles will be quite normal by 2025. Most sales of electric vehicles over the next decade will be smaller models designed for city use, encouraged by tax breaks for owners and subsidies for manufacturers.

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