Ian Cumming is a prolific and well-regarded founder of several travel start-ups including Travellr, GetFlight and Travel Massive, and planted the seeds for his new business by lodging a trade mark for the Spacebookings.com logo (pictured) in June this year.
“It isn’t just ‘space nerds’ who are interested in space tourism, as it may have been years ago, but it is now a reality and a vast mainstream audience awaits the chance to jet into the stratosphere – it’s not a question of if, but when,” he says.
Two advisers helping with the project are UK-based SkyScanner co-founder, Barry Smith, and US-based aviation and travel industry expert, Timothy O’Neil-Dunne, who was also a founding team member of Expedia.
Cumming works primarily at co-working space Fishburners in central Sydney with another start-up entrepreneur and fellow Spacebookings.com co-founder, Kevin Lippy.
“Kevin and I have an extensive background in online travel,” Cumming explains. “And together we are starting a service from scratch, in an industry that is at its very dawn – so we really need to work on building an audience, understanding them and then continuing to engage them as the industry grows.”
The project is self-funded so far, and Cumming confirms that “we’re less interested in funding than getting our strategy right”.
“Figures like Richard Branson, with Virgin Galactic, and Jeff Bezos, with Blue Origin, are forward-thinkers of our time who are already looking into the sky and making this a reality – and we share their vision.”
The Spacebookings.com website is currently a portal to join a mailing list, and the message on the site reads:
The exclusivity of space travel is so reserved that we think of it as being something only NASA astronauts and the elite and affluent can afford. However what you may not realize is that Space Travel will almost certainly reach a point where it is affordable for everyday private citizens, and we believe we will reach that point within the next decade.
The first aim for the website, Cumming says, is to be “the authoritative source for space tourism information”, with a proposed launch date of before the end of 2013.
“We have found it very difficult to find accurate and extensive information about space travel – not astronomy or space, but specifically space tourism,” he adds. “So we want to launch the site with extensive space tourism content, and then create and build a community around that.”
That community-building strategy is starting off well, with the Facebook page already at 1,600 followers.
Beyond that initial phase, a large-scale digital booking platform for the space tourism industry is in the works, although Cumming says “it isn’t about just jetting into space in a rocket”.
“You have to plan getting to the space ports around the globe, and then spending up to three-days training for the flight, so you’ll need somewhere to stay for that.
“Customers who book to go into space in the next five years are, let’s face it, very rich,” he adds. “They want a premium service to and from their front door, not just the time they spend above our planet.”
The plan isn’t for Spacebookings.com to be a separate entity from the broader online travel eco-system, but to ‘see how it can fit in with the bigger players like Expedia’.
“There is currently an online travel eco-system for all types of travel – from airlines and booking cars to hotels and excursions,” Cumming says. “One of our aims is to see how space tourism can plug into the current online tourism architecture.”
Ultimately, he concludes, the hope is that Spacebookings.com will be the leading space tourism platform when the inevitable growth happens – for example, Virgin Galactic announced this week that commercial space flights will begin next year.
“China and Russia are the high growth areas in online travel today, but space travel will be the high growth area of the future – and we want to be a big part of that when it happens.”