Mission to Mars: Mobility in a Multiplanetary Future
At industry events such as the Business Travel Show Europe, we often talk about the future of business travel. We look for ways to better our industry, discover more sustainable options and explore ideas on how technology can help make processes simpler. Is it now time to consider an even more exotic future of business travel? Is it possible that we can broaden our physical and metaphorical horizons even further?
Elon Musk once claimed that when he says something, it usually happens. Musk’s company, SpaceX, has stated that it intends to build a city on the surface of Mars by the year 2050 that will be home to at least one million people. I hope to be retired by 2050, but in this inflationary environment, it's difficult to predict. I imagine that a multiplanetary future will bring some great opportunities to resolve new and exciting cross-border challenges for business travel.
Business travellers are an important part of building a new city. Just look at the $500 billion-dollar NEOM project in Saudi Arabia. In 2022, NEOM attracted 40,000 business travellers and it hopes to grow that number exponentially in the coming years. These business travellers are actively engaged in the development of an entirely new civilisation.
Like NEOM, Mars City would be teaming with opportunities for entrepreneurial minds looking to expand their businesses beyond being a single planet organisation. The Martian authorities would be incentivised to attract these travellers to visit. Harvard Growth Lab research has shown a direct link between incoming business travel and the growth of new and existing industries. New industries abound in places that had been otherwise uninhabitable for billions of years.
Certainly, there would be some need to manage who enters Mars City. Like so many other places offering opportunities, there would be strong demand and limited resources. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 developed by the United Nations outlines that, ‘there is no claim for sovereignty in space; no nation can “own” space, the Moon or any other body’.
Despite these agreed principles, restricted avenues of transportation to Mars City – specifically at the start - would ensure that the decisions on who would travel to Mars were made by a select few, namely SpaceX leadership. What kind of visa policy would be developed by a then 80-year-old Elon Musk? Anyone who would like to postulate on Musk’s opinions about any topic need only consult his Twitter account. Musk believes in the opportunities that human mobility brings and is a migrant himself who recognises the contributions that immigrants can make to the economy.
It’s likely that any policies put in place to determine who is permitted to enter Mars City would be exclusively for those exhibiting exceptional opportunity and contribution to the community. The processes would be straightforward and clearly technology led. Furthermore, considering that a round-trip to Mars takes approximately 14 months, all travellers would have to have the appropriate visa prior to boarding to avoid wasting over a year of life if turned away at the border for incorrect documentation. These factors considered; a pre-travel electronic authorisation would be the most effective border management tool for business travellers to Mars City.
We can look at some of the initiatives happening in Europe to get clues on how a digital programme is developed, including an electronic pre-travel authorisation. ETA and ETIAS are currently being planned for implementation to enter the UK and the Schengen Area. These programmes provide better visibility for border controls on who is coming in and the opportunity to ‘screen’ individuals to reduce potential threat. Programmes such as these would offer an excellent blueprint for the authorities that would manage travel into Mars City.
Other considerations for travel managers will be the traveller’s insurance policy. Despite reaching temperatures similar to those in the Antarctic, blood boils within seconds of exposure to the elements on the surface of Mars. Therefore, it would be necessary to secure a multiplanetary travel policy that covers individuals for the unique risks that this business travel will entail. With these risks come unique duty of care considerations for travel managers.
As this new civilisation grows, competition would increase and inevitably more options for safe and comfortable travel and accommodation would become available. Eventually, could we imagine attending a conference at the Mars City Hilton and being assigned our own Extravehicular Mobility Unit at check in? Sightseeing at Olympus Mons, the largest known volcano in our solar system? Maybe taking our children on holiday to the city and the surrounding area? Is it too ambitious to imagine theme parks on Mars and how they would have to be organised to account for how much more slowly humans might get around on the Red Planet?
Despite having recently witnessed SpaceX explode the world’s largest ever rocket over a small Texas town, I believe that a multiplanetary human civilisation is a likely development in the future. Whether in 2050 or beyond, our successors will eventually need to consider how to manage programmes that include destinations such as Mars City that are totally out of this world.
About the author: Nomadic Director Jen Fackelman is a recognised thought-leader in short-term cross-border business travel. An industry innovator, Jen brings extensive experience to the business travel conversation and opens new and exciting debates on topics. She is based in London.