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Annals of Tourism Research
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/annals
Autonomous vehicles and the future of urban tourism
Scott A. Cohen
, Debbie Hopkins
Department of Tourism and Transport, School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, University of Surrey, UK
Transport Studies Unit, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, UK
Associate Editor: Noam Shoval
Connected and autonomous vehicles
Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) have the potential to disrupt all industries tied to
transport, including tourism. This conceptual paper breaks new ground by providing an in-depth
imaginings approach to the potential future far-reaching implications of CAVs for urban tourism.
Set against key debates in urban studies and urban tourism, we discuss the enchantments and
apprehensions surrounding CAVs and how they may impact cities in terms of tourism transport
mode use, spatial changes, tourism employment and the night-time visitor economy, leading to
new socio-economic opportunities and a range of threats and inequities. We provide a concluding
agenda that sets the foundation for a new research sub-ﬁeld on CAVs and tourism, of relevance to
urban planners, policymakers and the tourism industry.
Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) have the potential to dramatically change the way people live, work and travel in
cities (Lu, Du, Dunham-Jones, Park, & Crittenden, 2017). Navigation of CAVs will be fully automated in their most advanced stage,
making driver engagement with driving tasks obsolete, or illegal (Krueger, Rashidi, & Rose, 2016). Nissan, Volvo and other in-
cumbent vehicle manufacturers hope to have commercially-viable automated-driving capabilities in multiple car models by 2020
(Fagnant & Kockelman, 2015). New entrants to the motor industry –Google, Apple and Uber –also aim to develop a fully automated
vehicle along a similar timeline (Hopkins & Schwanen, 2018a). Such timelines have contributed to a race to vehicle automation led
by national governments as well as incumbents and new entrants (Hopkins & Schwanen, 2018b), and consequently, automation has
come to dominate visions of future mobility. Allowing time for CAVs to become cost comparable to non-CAVs,
regulation to catch up
with technological capabilities, some degree of mass market penetration and growth in public acceptance, CAVs may be on the mass
market as soon as 2025, ﬁrst in parts of Asia, Europe and the US, and are somewhat optimistically forecasted by some to be the
primary means of car transport globally by the 2040s (Fagnant & Kockelman, 2015; Kellerman, 2018). Under these assumptions –
which are not guaranteed –all industries closely tied to transport will be gradually disrupted, and the tourism sector is no exception.
Given the potentially short timeline until CAVs enter the mass market, it is surprising that no research to date has considered in
depth the potential future widespread implications of CAVs for the tourism industry. To the best of our knowledge, the only existing
study of CAVs in tourism is Tussyadiah’s, Zach, and Wang (2017) examination of public attitudes towards the concept of ‘self-driving
taxis’. However, CAVs represent far more than ‘self-driving taxis’and ‘public perceptions’; they raise questions of, for instance,
changes to urban form, and tourist experiences. More widely, as CAVs are still in the conceptual development phase, the majority of
research on them is on technical and technological aspects, to the extent that social science literature constitutes just six percent of
Received 11 September 2018; Received in revised form 22 October 2018; Accepted 28 October 2018
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (S.A. Cohen).
Either for individual consumers in a private ownership model, or businesses, organisations and cooperatives in a shared ownership model.
Annals of Tourism Research 74 (2019) 33–42
0160-7383/ © 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
the total scientiﬁc literature on CAVs (Cavoli, Phillips, Cohen, & Jones, 2017). This comparative lack of social science perspectives,
alongside the rapid pace of CAV technological development, led Cavoli et al. (2017) to urgently call for more studies on their socio-
behavioural implications, and to observe that few authors have examined CAVs in the context of urban planning.
Against this background, this conceptual paper seeks to break new ground in the social scientiﬁc study of tourism, by being the
ﬁrst to consider some of the potential far-reaching implications of CAVs for the tourism industry. Our focus is on urban mobility,
primarily in the global north, in that we aim through conceptual discussion to bring out what we consider to be some of the most
signiﬁcant social and behavioural impacts that CAVs will have on urban tourism in developed nations. Urban environments are at the
forefront of CAV innovation (e.g. Hopkins & Schwanen, 2019), and there is potential for the urban context to be gradually trans-
formed because of CAVs (Lu et al., 2017), along with urban tourism. Set against key debates in urban studies and urban tourism, we
imagine how CAVs may impact cities in terms of tourism transport mode use, spatial changes, tourism employment and the night-
time visitor economy. The ‘imaginings’approach, as the method for this paper, emerged from innovation and Science Technology and
Society (STS) studies, and has been used widely for research on innovations that are not yet part of public cognition (Corn, 1986;
Jasanoﬀ& Kim, 2009).
Our discussion will not only be of interest to the academy, as its original ideas and concluding research agenda are likely to spark
a new sub-ﬁeld of empirical interest in tourism research, but the transformational potential of CAVs for urban tourism also means that
planners, policy makers and the tourism industry will ﬁnd this paper of immediate and ongoing relevance. As the following sections
reveal, CAVs will lead to new socio-economic opportunities for urban tourism spaces, but will also present a range of threats and
inequities that will demand the attention of industry and policy stakeholders.
Autonomous vehicles and urban tourism
CAVs –also known as ‘driverless’,‘self-driving’or ‘automated’vehicles –are often represented in industry, media and public
discourse as inevitable, revolutionary, and broadly incontestable. Such technological determinist accounts are widely critiqued (e.g.
Bissell, 2018), pointing to how such framings overstate eﬃciencies and often make claim to largely unsupported and wide-ranging
beneﬁts. CAVs do, however, present the potential to disrupt current practices of mobility, including “the spatial morphology of cities;
the discipline and control of vehicle occupants; the generation of public revenues through vehicle taxation; the livelihoods of cur-
rently employed drivers; the power geometries of access; and the viability of other modes of transport”(Bissell, 2018: p. 57), with
important implications for urban tourism.
Contemporary CAV innovation is the culmination of more than 80 years of automation processes in vehicles, beginning with
automatic transmission systems, and recently continuing through the automation of navigation, lane keeping and parking
(Kellerman, 2018). The process of automation is ongoing, with development aimed at moving, seemingly as quickly as possible,
through the International Society of Automotive Engineers’(SAE) automation taxonomy for CAVs, which spans from no automation
(SAE Level 0) through driver assistance, partial, conditional, high, and ultimately, full automation (SAE Level 5) (Heinrichs &
Cyganski, 2015). This paper’s discussion is largely contingent on reaching widespread deployment of SAE Level 5, fully automated
vehicles. It is within, and perhaps only if this most advanced stage of automation is achieved, that the primary societal appeal and
impacts of CAVs lay.
Yet CAVs are already emerging, by way of public trials, initially on clearly deﬁned ‘oﬀ-road’,and increasingly ‘on-road’routes –
and tourists are likely to be some of the ﬁrst to experience this innovation. Heathrow Airport, for example, has been a key partner in
many CAV experiments in the UK, trialling ‘pods on demand’at Terminal 5, which they claim reduce travel time from 27 to 4 min,
and save on average 50,000 tons of carbon (WestﬁeldAVs, 2018, https://westﬁeldavs.com/): time and carbon savings are two pri-
mary justiﬁcations for CAV development and implementation more broadly, as discussed below. CAVs are now being proposed as
autonomous shuttles for travellers to aircrafts at Gatwick Airport. There are further plans to expand the application of CAV pods in
tourist settings, with propositions to implement a trial in England’s Lake District national park framed as a ‘sustainable transport
solution’to help overcome congestion and pollution (Mogg, 2018). Thus, tourists appear to be a key demographic exposed to CAV
innovation in the short-term, aimed to overcome unsustainable practices, and to make use of controlled airport environments, with
relatively consistent routes, rhythms and ﬂows of people.
The enchantment of CAVs
A number of enchantments underpin the often-utopic visions of automated urban futures. These enchantments include techno-
logical solutionism to urban crises (e.g. air pollution, congestion), economic development and creating innovative storylines of urban
governance (e.g. Hopkins & Schwanen, 2019). The proposed beneﬁts of CAVs, elaborated below, help to justify and legitimate public
funding of research and demonstration, with these beneﬁts contingent not only on the degree of automation (e.g. SAE Level 1–5), but
also on behavioural and governance questions that include: ownership models (e.g. shared versus private), the share of CAVs versus
non-CAVs on the road, power train technologies, and the regulations, policies, technologies and algorithms governing and guiding
CAV use. Despite uncertainty in how the future will unfold in terms of the timing and nature of development, adoption and gov-
ernance, the appeal of widespread deployment of fully automated vehicles is based on a number of key proposed beneﬁts.
First, discourses of safety are central to the promotion of an automated mobility future. CAVs are argued to potentially eliminate
up to 90 percent of traﬃc accidents, by reducing driver error (Bonnefon, Shariﬀ, & Rahwan, 2016). This is signiﬁcant in tourism
contexts, particularly where new driving rules, driving direction (e.g. left/right), unfamiliar environments and tiredness from travel
can all contribute to collisions involving tourists. Second, it has been suggested that congestion may be reduced, due to fewer
S.A. Cohen, D. Hopkins Annals of Tourism Research 74 (2019) 33–42
accidents, but also because fewer CAVs would be required to meet mobility demands as compared to human-driven cars (Kellerman,
2018). This claim is strongly dependent on dominant ownership models, and would require a far greater proportion of shared versus
privately owned CAVs to be achieved, which we discuss further below. Traﬃcﬂows may be optimised due to automated vehicle-to-
vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication, albeit Fagnant and Kockelman (2015) suggest congestion beneﬁts
will be less in cities as the complexities of city-driving are harder to address than those of motorways and other high-speed roads.
Third, CAVs hold the promise of improving accessibility for non-drivers, who may for instance be elderly, disabled or children
(Cavoli et al., 2017), and thus it has been argued that CAV innovation oﬀers social justice beneﬁts to urban mobility. While CAV
emergence is likely to be in cities of the global north initially, it is worth noting that, like drone technologies, CAVs could be viewed
as a leapfrogging technology for cities of the global south, especially where there are lower rates of driver licencing (Kellerman,
2018). Yet, this increased social access to automobility may compromise some congestion savings. Fourth, CAVs may allow for
environmental beneﬁts, particularly in terms of saving fuel and lowering emissions, through improved driver behaviour –eliminating
practices such as harsh breaking in favour of so-called ‘eco-driving’, as discussed further in the next section. Finally, it has been
proposed that travel time would become more ‘useful’, as passenger compartments will be transformed to allow former-drivers to, for
example, safely eat, read and watch movies (Fagnant & Kockelman, 2015), or perhaps to safely sightsee unencumbered by the task of
driving. Nevertheless, despite these enchantments, CAVs are also critiqued in a number of ways, which are important to discuss before
turning our focus towards the implications of CAVs for urban tourism.
Apprehensions surrounding CAVs
Despite enthusiasm by governments and industry sectors, most of whom have a substantial stake in CAV development, CAVs are
also the subject of many concerns. First, by making travel time ‘more useful’, CAVs hold the potential to create induced demand,
increasing the amount of time people spend travelling by car. With time in cars taking on higher utility value, individuals may be
willing to travel farther distances, for commuting, other daily trips, business and/or leisure travel, which could, for instance, “en-
courage individuals to shift their home locations to more remote locations, to enjoy lower land prices (and thereby bigger homes)”
(Bansal, Kockelman, & Singh, 2016, p. 2). This could result in greater urban sprawl and further increase car dependency (Cavoli et al.,
2017; Legacy, Ashmore, Scheurer, Stone, & Curtis, 2018)–perhaps resulting in tourists favouring private vehicles over coach tours,
decreasing demand for public transport modes, and shifting preference for hotel locations –or even changing tourists’relationships
with static hotels.
Second, as part of the wider “upcoming trend of robots and information technologies replacing human workers”(Kellerman,
2018, p. 134), CAVs also threaten signiﬁcant future job losses for professional drivers. Taxi, bus and coach drivers, and any travel
company that relies on human drivers, stand to be aﬀected, though the transition away from professional human drivers is likely to be
gradual and in stages. This is already reﬂected by Uber’s piloting of CAVs in Pittsburgh since 2016, wherein customers may be
randomly paired with a CAV with an employee in the driving seat who supervises, with the aim of being fully autonomous by 2021
(Tussyadiah et al., 2017). Such claims, however, vastly understate the driver’srole –the tasks, and identities that are assumed in the
role. For instance, London taxi drivers oﬀer distinct and unique local knowledge that tourists may struggle to gain from other sources.
Third, considerable doubt remains as to the CAV business models that will be advanced by industry, preferred by publics and
encouraged by governments. Many proposed beneﬁts of CAVs –lowering traﬃc congestion, energy use and emissions, and increasing
access –depends on a dominant business model in which CAVs are primarily shared, rather than privately owned. Fagnant and
Kockelman (2015, p. 167) point to “[c]omplementary trends in shared rides and vehicles [that] may lead us from vehicles as an
owned product to an on-demand service”, and suggest one shared CAV could replace around ten privately owned vehicles, longer
trips excluded. Shared CAVs (SCAVs) would make CAV travel aﬀordable and provide wider socio-economic access (Cavoli et al.,
2017), and may be most appealing for tourists –particularly in terms of destination mobilities. Ride sharing could be incentivised by
cheaper fares, as is presently so with uberPOOL in some American cities, and will especially appeal to budget-conscious travellers,
whether that be city residents or segments of the urban visitor economy. However, users of SCAVs may be forced to spend time with
strangers in a conﬁned space (Krueger et al., 2016), a situation characterised by both variance in cultural willingness to do so, and in
diﬀering social expectations depending on the number of strangers present: Kauppila (2017) for instance suggests that sitting with
one stranger in a SCAV may be viewed as unacceptable due to an expectation to talk, whereas with two or more strangers this
expectation is reduced. But such interactions with ‘locals’may be appealing to some tourists.
Fourth, claims of environmental beneﬁts from CAV innovation are contingent on shared ownership models and electric pro-
pulsion, however, some electric vehicles have higher cradle-to-grave emissions than internal combustion engine vehicles, with the
emission reduction potential of electric vehicles dependent on production processes and fuels for electriﬁcation (European Climate
Foundation, 2017). There is a greater likelihood of electric urban mobility, while for long-distance trips, petrol and diesel fuels may
prevail (Cavoli et al., 2017). There is furthermore a risk that CAVs could erode train use for intercity travel, thereby reducing their
environmental beneﬁts. Governments must play a role in encouraging SCAVs, though this will largely be against the interests of car
manufacturers, and thus strong opposition by automotive lobby groups could be expected (Gössling, Cohen, & Hares, 2016).
Fifth, concerns surrounding ethical, security and privacy issues in CAV development and use have been identiﬁed and are gaining
increasing attention (e.g. Taeihagh & Min Lim, 2018). The most notable ethical conundrum in CAV development is whether they
should be programmed to protect their passengers above all, or sacriﬁce passengers for a greater good (c.f. Bonnefon et al., 2016):
potential CAV consumers have been shown to approve of CAVs for others that are set as utilitarian, or the greater good, but prefer to
ride in ones themselves that prioritise passenger safety above all. CAVs may also threaten the security of those outside them. While
the recent death of a pedestrian in the US, who was struck by an experimental Uber CAV, gained widespread media attention (T.S.,
S.A. Cohen, D. Hopkins Annals of Tourism Research 74 (2019) 33–42
2018), there is also the potential for terrorism facilitated by CAVs, which will likely be able to travel unoccupied into crowded urban
Finally, data privacy while travelling in CAVs is an emerging issue, especially for business travellers who may access sensitive
information on devices connected to its Wi-Fi. Vehicle travel data may also be used to inform targeted advertising, which may prove
disconcerting to consumers (Fagnant & Kockelman, 2015). Indeed, the commercial applications of CAV travel data extend to tourism,
where not just marketing, but even the commercialisation of CAV routes in the urban environment may be aﬀected, as discussed
Method and approach
This paper’s research approach is centred on ‘imagining’urban tourism futures as they intersect with socio-technical innovations.
As a concept and method, imaginings have been used in a variety of contexts to “articulate feasible futures”(Jasanoﬀ& Kim, 2009, p.
123). To date, however, there has been only limited application of imaginings in tourism studies, and even less so intersecting critical
analyses of tourism with socio-technical futures. The focus of tourism studies has been on where imaginaries originate, how they
circulate, and the impacts. For instance, Salazar (2012, p. 863) shows how a critical analysis of imaginaries can help to uncover the
existence and power of “ideological, political, and sociocultural stereotypes and clichés”in international tourism studies.
Yet imaginings can oﬀer ways of thinking about both enchantments and apprehensions of socio-technical innovations, such as
CAVs. Jasanoﬀand Kim (2009, p. 123) articulate how:
…imaginaries are instrumental and futuristic: they project visions of what is good, desirable and worth attaining…imaginaries
also warn against risks or hazards that might accompany innovation if it is pushed too hard or too fast. In activating collective
consciousness, imaginaries help create the political will or public resolve to attain them.
This underscores the power and performativities of imaginaries: who constructs them, how they diﬀuse (or not) and their spatial
and temporal dimensions are all of critical importance.
In this paper, we provide imaginings of urban tourism futures, which tie speciﬁcally to the emergence of CAV innovations. We do
so by drawing from the established urbanism and innovation scholarship in which imaginings are seen as a tool for exposing het-
erogeneous, often-unintended and multi-directional urban futures (Bina, Mateus, Pereira, & Caﬀa, 2017). Imagining has two key
values for our purpose; ﬁrst, it foregrounds how urban space(s) are socially and discursively constructed, as well as the material-built
environment, which allows us to press further into urban futures, to uncover heterogeneous meanings and experiences. Second, it
opens space for speculations, and critical engagement with the unknown.
While some imagining literature draws from science ﬁction or discourse analyses to expose avenues for investigation (e.g. Collie,
2011), such an approach is problematic, if not impractical, for CAVs and urban tourism due to the early stage of development of
technologies, but more importantly, the early stage of thinking about the implications of CAVs for urban tourism. We focus on key
debates in urbanism and urban tourism, to uncover how CAV innovation may contribute to stasis and change across interconnected
parts of the urban tourism system. In doing so, this paper develops analysis of the interconnections between people, places, infra-
structures and policies that make, and are made by, the urban. To create the imaginings, we bring into conversation the various
assumptions and visions of CAV innovations, with literatures on critical urban tourism and contemporary debates in urban studies.
From these three bodies of work together, dominant themes arose that provide imaginings of CAVs and urban tourism, and around
which the paper is structured.
An obvious limitation to this approach is its reliance on two authors and their collective knowledge and interpretations, however
as this paper is designed to provide a launchpad to more detailed, place-speciﬁc and context-sensitive analyses, which may include
future-forecasting/backcasting approaches, it oﬀers suﬃcient depth of detail and intersections across the various literatures to serve
its purpose. Moreover, given the inherent limitations to future-focused research (e.g. ability to imagine the future), it oﬀers an
approach that may be developed in further tourism research debates.
Urban studies and urban tourism
Our thinking in this paper does not relate to a speciﬁc city or country. And while we do acknowledge the limitations of such an
approach, our aim is to be provocative; to stimulate greater engagement with the topic of CAVs –and other socio-technical in-
novations and (urban) tourism. With this goal in mind, we reﬂect on the urban as a site of/for analysis, but urge future work to
provide context-speciﬁc analyses that may help uncover new and alternative ways of thinking about CAVs for urban tourism, with
localised socio-cultural and built environmental speciﬁcities.
There are diﬀerent ways that key issues in urban studies (and their implications for urban tourism) can be ascertained. Authors
can start from either tourism studies, or urban studies. For the former, this might involve examining tourism literatures for reviews of
urban tourism and agenda setting papers (e.g. Ashworth & Page, 2011; Edwards, Griﬃn, & Hayllar, 2008). While for the latter it
could involve analyses of current issues in urban studies, and critical reﬂection on these topics for urban tourism and CAVs. The latter
approach has been adopted in this paper. This is because this oﬀers the most up-to-date thinking, space for considering wide-ranging
implications, and acknowledges the subjectivity of claims of ‘key concerns’as constructed by the authors.
We identify ﬁve key concerns in urban scholarship, particularly relating to transport, mobilities and tourism, as including: 1)
regimes that enable and constrain everyday urban mobility practices (Pierce & Lawhon, 2018); 2) transformations of urban space
including processes of gentriﬁcation (Grube-Cavers & Patterson, 2015); 3) sustainability agendas and urban sustainable development
S.A. Cohen, D. Hopkins Annals of Tourism Research 74 (2019) 33–42
(Dempsey, Bramley, Power, & Brown, 2011); 4) city-regions and conceptualisations of (degrees of) urban-ness; and 5) urban in-
novation and experimentation (Karvonen & van Heur, 2014). Clearly this list is not comprehensive, but depicts the variety of topics
with which urban scholars are grappling. While social science research on urban environments often focuses on the everyday, there
are important and lasting intersections with tourism and tourists. For instance, gentriﬁcation, urban regeneration and tourism often
go hand-in-hand. Gotham (2005, p. 1099) speaks of processes of ‘tourism gentriﬁcation’, where middle-class neighbourhoods are
transformed into “relatively aﬄuent and exclusive enclave(s) marked by a proliferation of corporate entertainment and tourism
ﬂows”. Within such enclaves –and beyond –tourists often ‘play the role of the local’(Fuller & Michel, 2014), performing practices
such as taking the Underground in London, or walking across the famous zebra crossing outside Shinjuku station in Tokyo: doing
what (urban, aﬄuent) ‘locals’do.
Yet the wants, needs, patterns, ﬂows and practices of residents and visitors are not always alike –they can be jarringly divergent –
or result in competition for the same resources (e.g. property) leading to discontent and hostilities (Pinkster & Boterman, 2017).
Airbnb exempliﬁes this, where oﬀering tourists the opportunity to ‘live as locals do’has contributed to heated property markets
becoming inaccessible for locals. The infrastructures, policies, planning and regulation of urban governance may not always suit both
groups, and more tangibly can lead to tensions, negative stereotyping and resistance to tourism development (e.g. Colomb & Novy,
2016). Such dualisms (resident versus visitor) may not be useful, as it is likely that many people will take on both roles often
simultaneously, however for the purpose of thinking through the novelty of CAVs and their implications for urban tourism, the
relationalities between heterogeneous groups of tourists and residents may be a productive pathway forward.
Transport infrastructures are often designed with (particular groups of) locals’needs in mind. Tourists consequently often co-opt
existing infrastructures for their own needs. When (semi)publicly funded infrastructures are designed for tourists, this can sit un-
easily, particularly, for instance, after almost a decade of post-global ﬁnancial crisis austerity politics dominating public sector
decision making, with important impacts at the local scale. Yet transport –and its various modalities including trains, buses, taxis,
hire-cars, cycling, walking –also oﬀers opportunities for diﬀerent types of encounters (Boterman & Musterd, 2016). For instance,
travelling by train on Amtrak in the US might aﬀord diﬀerent encounters than air or car travel. Each oﬀers distinct opportunities to
meet ‘locals’.Yet not all modalities are equally available to all groups. Notions of perceived safety, security, risk and freedom are
likely to underpin the types of travel decision-making for tourists. In some cities, for instance, public transport may be perceived
‘unsafe’, resulting in private vehicle use.
Shaw’s (2014) work on the urban night oﬀers another important intersection with urban tourism and the potentialities of CAV
innovations. He shines light on the heterogeneity of the night-time economy, beyond the traditional focus on bars, pubs and clubs –
topics which have been a signiﬁcant focus of tourism studies of the night (e.g. Jayne, Gibson, Waitt, & Valentine, 2012). With a focus
on night-time taxi drivers and street cleaners, Shaw (2014) shows how taxis are a central component of urban mobilities (e.g. Cooper,
Murray, & Nelson, 2010), assembling “the bodies required to generate atmosphere”(Shaw, 2014: 91; Anderson, 2009). The inter-
sections of thinking on the night-time economy, tourism and mobilities may oﬀer alternative conceptualisations of how CAVs may be
implemented –as they are often visualised in a daytime context –and which may present new aﬀordances in the urban night.
This sketch of urban-scale issues helps to contextualise our thinking on how, where, when and why CAV innovations may intersect
with urban tourism. We now use this as a conceptual base on which to develop four overarching but intersecting imaginings. The ﬁrst
is situated broadly around themes of CAVs in urban tourism; second, transformations of urban space; third, autonomous taxis,
sightseeing and tourism employment; and fourth, hospitality and the urban night.
CAVS in urban tourism
Most of the existing literature on potential CAV use in cities is concerned with commuting and other daily –and day-time –urban
mobilities (Kellerman, 2018). Yet all types of vehicle transport involved in urban tourism will be aﬀected by the potential transition
to automation. This ranges from airport shuttles and transfers, through city taxis, car hire and vehicle-based guided urban sight-
seeing. CAVs are anticipated to provide ‘last-mile solutions’that may facilitate multi-modality (Krueger et al., 2016), and thus may
play an important role in moving urban tourists between, for instance, a train station and their accommodation. By (partially)
eliminating the driver, the cost of such transport could be signiﬁcantly lower, however initially it is likely that the novelty, and
potential other beneﬁts of CAVs could place a price-premium on CAV mobilities. The present trialling of CAVs in airport settings
oﬀers free transport to tourists, whilst testing the technology in a relatively constrained and controlled environment, and exposing
(wealthy, travelling) publics to the innovation. Nevertheless, CAVs may help overcome international tourists’perceived barriers to
hiring a car in a foreign environment. The risk of jet lag, fatigue, misunderstanding new driving rules, and cultures of mobility could
be minimised. This would be signiﬁcant in countries such as New Zealand, where fatalities involving foreign tourists as drivers have
recently received signiﬁcant press attention, with fatigue from long-haul air travel and diﬀering road-rules used to explain the
collisions (Macdonald, 2017). Moreover, if, as Anderson et al. (2014) propose, CAV manufacturers take responsibility for insurance
and liability of CAVs, this oﬀers further beneﬁts for overseas tourists.
These changes may, however, have undesirable and unintended eﬀects on urban tourism destinations. Examples could be the
reconﬁguration of airport transfers with automated driving systems for taxis and vehicle-based guided sightseeing, which we expand
on further below. These are opportunities where encounters between tourists and ‘local’drivers could have occurred, and those
encounters may instead be replaced with advertising. It is not immediately clear how losing such encounters might aﬀect the quality
of tourist experiences, but this does warrant further consideration. It is likely however, at least early on in the societal CAV adoption
process, that experiencing a CAV through urban tourism will be an attraction in its own right (Kellerman, 2018), especially among
younger generations eager to try out new things (Tussyadiah et al., 2017). This could result in ﬂeets of urban CAVs designed
S.A. Cohen, D. Hopkins Annals of Tourism Research 74 (2019) 33–42
speciﬁcally for tourists’needs –which are likely to diﬀer from the needs of local communities –and which could exacerbate urban
transport inequalities, particularly if investments in tourism-related CAVs are at the expense of services for local residents.
Higher levels of CAV hire by urban tourists may also negatively impact city planner eﬀorts to encourage visitor public transport
use, resulting in ‘overtourism’taking the form of hordes of small CAVs congesting urban tourism spaces –as seen today with taxis,
mini-buses and coaches. CAV developers and entrepreneurs are now exploring low-occupancy CAV concepts, considered ‘rightsizing’,
as average vehicle occupancy in the US, and cities across the global north, is less than two persons (Greenblatt & Saxena, 2015). Yet in
a scenario with private CAVs, average vehicle occupancy could be reduced to less than one person, with so-called ‘zombie cars’
travelling autonomously –and empty –around urban roads as they return to ‘depot’or perform other tasks. Moreover, with little
suggesting vehicle preferences will change substantially with the introduction of CAVs, urban residents and tourists are likely to
continue to prefer larger vehicles due to perceptions of safety, prestige and increased comfort, especially in intercity travel. Should
CAVs replace traditional coach-tours, major urban attractions can anticipate congestion as ten or more CAVs may equal the capacity
of one conventional tour bus. CAV use in urban tourism may, therefore, prove an exception to expectations that CAVs will lead to
reduced congestion and better traﬃcﬂows (Kellerman, 2018). This must be an important consideration of regulating and planning
for urban CAV futures.
Transforming urban space
The desired aesthetics of urban spaces for tourists vary substantially (Gospodini, 2001), however it is broadly accepted that the
concrete jungles of roading infrastructure and car parks are unappealing for residents and visitors alike (ibid). Yet, remarkably,
parking occupies one third of the central city real estate in some large cities (Henderson & Spencer, 2016). Urban public sector actors
–particularly civil servants and elected oﬃcials –are increasingly confronted with the juxtaposition of public funds from parking,
and the desire for liveable urban centres with more green spaces and less vehicles. Parking-related policy has been used in some
contexts to both restrict and encourage the adoption of car-sharing schemes (Kent & Dowling, 2016). CAVs may reconﬁgure urban
space, and the design of urban space, by forcing a rethink on the provision of urban-centre parking facilities. CAV innovation could
bring this about by reducing: a) the number of parked vehicles (and hence the spaces required) and b) the space needed for parking
them, as those parking will do so closely together in a depot, which some have suggested will require just one quarter of the space in a
conventional parking lot (Alessandrini, Campagna, Site, Filippi, & Persia, 2015). Similarly, connectivity may oﬀer real-time in-
formation on parking, to reduce time spent looking for parking –a function that would also beneﬁt traditional vehicles.
Under a high SCAV-use scenario, an impressive reduction in urban land used for parking could be assumed, with the potential to
increase the liveability of cities –assuming the space is used for civic rather than economic purposes (Cavoli et al., 2017). And while
the assumptions of shared mobilities present a range of formidable challenges –to overcome entrenched cultures of private own-
ership –such thinking oﬀers opportunities to imagine what optimal urban environments might look like, who might beneﬁt, and how
it could be achieved. What if parking lots and roadside parking could be transformed into city parks, event spaces and bike lanes? The
socio-cultural beneﬁts of such a transformation in urban form, coupled with supportive political, social and cultural contexts could be
limitless. Likewise, envisioning urban environments without the need for extensive vehicle parking might include opportunities for
hotels to add rooms or develop spaces in other ways, such as for events (Henderson & Spencer, 2016), and reconﬁguring urban
tourism attractions with CAVs drop-oﬀand pick-up spaces rather than car-parks.
In contrast, a future in which CAVs are predominately privately owned suggests personal CAVs would, if not parking in depots, be
running home empty after dropping oﬀpassengers, before picking them up later, and hence perpetuating congestion and increasing
emissions. Moreover, the network of shared mobility requires further attention, with implications for urban form, as SCAVs will still
need to be serviced, charged, cleaned and stood waiting at quiet times. Where this will happen and who will live next to these spaces
are important yet still unanswered questions in urban planning. The likelihood of replicating existing patterns of inequality is high –if
strong governance of the introduction of any shared mobility system is not provided by public sector actors in coalition with local
community organisations. Urban design and planning processes need to think deeply about the question of urban space in a CAV
future, with an eye on who may beneﬁt from such transformation, and who will not.
Personalised CAV urban sightseeing may also exacerbate existing and create new economic inequities, as based on how they are
bundled as ‘products’and routed within cities. CAV sightseeing bundles may be themed in ways not previously possible before due to
distances between attractions. This will induce changes in the spatiotemporal ﬂows of urban tourists, and their trip conﬁguration, and
eventually transform urban spaces so as to extend city tourism beyond the urban core. The itineraries are likely to be aﬀected by
algorithms that give preferential treatment to sites that pay for service –which could beneﬁt large multi-nationals, and neglect local
businesses in the short term –and may result in backlash as some tourists seek ‘authentic’local experiences. The spatial routing of
tours may therefore be commercialised to the extent that CAVs will hide certain aspects of the urban environment from tourists,
blacking their view. As an example, souvenir shops paying for inclusion within the algorithms may enjoy streams of visitors. Although
there are similarities to the long-standing practice of tour guides gaining commissions from bringing in tourists to particular shops,
what diﬀers is that competitive advantage will instead be gained through algorithmic favouritism. This phenomenon may not only be
limited to shopping, but also aﬀect the constitution of urban attractions themselves, wherein those attractions favoured through the
algorithms aﬀecting CAV city tours may gradually become authenticated as ‘must see attractions’(Cohen & Cohen, 2012; Lugosi,
The impact of CAVs on urban tourism extends beyond intra-urban travel, as city-to-city travel will also be signiﬁcantly aﬀected,
mainly in terms of transport mode, destination choice, distances covered, travel frequency and preferred accommodation. This could
transform urban space by reimagining routes, entry-points and exits, by rethinking what constitutes accommodation, and how
S.A. Cohen, D. Hopkins Annals of Tourism Research 74 (2019) 33–42
destinations are understood. For instance, a shift in transport mode away from both intercity trains and short-haul aviation is likely,
as CAVs reduce the burden of train stations and airports. The current trend towards low-cost airlines entering long-haul routes is
therefore likely to continue, as low-cost airlines will eventually face increasing competition in short-haul routes from CAV travel.
City-to-city coach travel is also likely to be out-competed by SCAVs running at least in part on traditional fuels. SCAVs will fur-
thermore signal a forthcoming end to the private hire of human-driven coaches, including coach travel between cities for events,
whether that be student ﬁeldtrips, concerts or sporting events. Traditional itinerary-based multi-city coach tours will likewise have to
compete with CAVs, whether individualised or shared, though the latter may still have a human guide. Individualised CAVs for city-to
city tourism travel may not be always be small, as already evidenced by Volkswagen’s plans to build autonomous campervans (Smith,
New urban tourism destinations may emerge as CAVs rise in popularity, whether this be speciﬁc attractions that were previously
hard to access within existing city destinations, or new secondary cities emerging as stronger competitors for visitors due to newfound
transport connectivity. These mobilities may generate new conceptualisations of what constitutes the ‘central business district’,or
indeed ‘central’and ‘peripheral’. By making car travel less strenuous, CAVs will aﬀect the distance, frequency, ﬂows, and experiences
of intercity travel: longer distances may be covered by car and shorter intercity trips, especially during weekends, may become more
frequent (Kellerman, 2018). City-to-city travel times can also be expected to become more reliable by car, as CAVs can reduce vehicle
spacing by ‘platooning’(vehicles following closely to each other in the slipstream), and couple this with near-constant velocities
(Fagnant & Kockelman, 2015). Whereas for some this will increase the attractiveness of longer-distance CAV travel, it may enforce a
speed and route incongruous with tourism desires, and thereby be rejected by others who opt for the scenic route. There may
therefore be a concurrent rise of intercity tourist travel wherein more emphasis is given to scenic aspects of the connecting journey,
rather than just the cities themselves, with consequent pressures for instance on scenic highways.
Autonomous taxis, sightseeing and tourism employment
The introduction of driverless taxis has received perhaps some of the most attention across all applications of this innovation. This
may be because it is anticipated that SCAVs in the form of autonomous taxis are likely to gain rapid early market share (Greenblatt &
Saxena, 2015). Cities are expected to have 24/7 transport options, and taxis are an important part of this system –particularly for
tourists for whom the environment is unfamiliar. Globally, cities have grown in relatively consistent ways, so much so that taxis are a
relatively simple transport mode to use even with language and cultural barriers. In an automated mobility future, cities can be
expected to have 24/7 on-demand CAVs, shared or private, which are eﬀectively real-time car rentals on a per-minute or per-mile
basis, ordered using mobile devices (Fagnant & Kockelman, 2015). Autonomous taxi fares are likely to be lower in part by not needing
to pay drivers, which account for more than half the fare. These savings could replace conventional taxis at current CAV technology
costs, and even lower fares. Once CAV costs fall, conventional taxis may be unable to compete (Greenblatt & Saxena, 2015), unless
they are able to make a clear case for the additional services provided beyond transport (e.g. tour guiding). Already companies such
as Uber and Lyft are putting pressure on traditional taxi operators both in terms of platforms and costs, and the emergence of CAVs
could further stress an already fragile sector.
Yet autonomous taxis will not be problem-free, as already demonstrated by Ge, Knittel, MacKenzie, and Zoepf (2016) who used
data on 1500 rides with Uber and Lyft in Seattle and Boston in the US, ﬁnding female passengers were taken on longer, more
expensive rides than males, and that African American passengers waited longer and were twice as likely to have their trip cancelled.
Social, ethnic and gender biases evidenced within ride-hailing technologies are thus in danger of being reproduced in the context of
shared autonomous taxis. Nonetheless, Tussyadiah et al.’s (2017) study of autonomous taxis found a higher level of public intention
to use ‘self-driving taxis’as tourists than as residents; they conclude this indicates that autonomous taxis will have a major impact on
tourism –however the direction and shape of these impacts are not yet clear.
Vehicle-based guided urban sightseeing will be aﬀected in a number of ways through automation. City bus tours, including the
hop-on hop-oﬀvariety, will at a minimum replace drivers with stewards or guides. This will especially be the case in the medium-
term as human driver re-engagement remains important while CAV technology becomes more reliable (Cavoli et al., 2017). It is
possible, however, that intra-city bus tours will in due course become obsolete and replaced by individual CAVs. Vehicular city
sightseeing may thus become personalised and on-demand. This would have beneﬁts such as increasing accessibility for disabled
travellers, and CAVs may therefore play an important future role in accessible tourism, which is not only important to mobility rights
and sustainability within cities, but is also a signiﬁcant economic market (Darcy, Cameron, & Pegg, 2010). Destination management
organisations may consequently also look to support a transition to CAV city tours.
City walking tours may join bus tours in the switch to small CAVs. However, as CAVs are likely to make both urban walking and
walking tours safer by reducing pedestrian car accidents, these modes may eventually gain more participants. CAV use in crowded
tourist areas, where there may already be high volumes of distracted pedestrians, could generate further tensions with local residents
and amplify perceptions of overtourism. Thus, while it is diﬃcult to predict whether CAV city tours will erode walking tours, and
potentially cause further knock-on eﬀects in tour guide employment or residents’perceptions of tourism, what is foreseeable is that
proximity, the main factor in the design of city walking tours, will become less important, as the sequence of sites visited will matter
less when covered by CAV.
Hospitality and the hedonic urban night
It has been claimed that urban studies, and academic research more broadly, suﬀers from nyctalopia –in that it “tends to overlook
S.A. Cohen, D. Hopkins Annals of Tourism Research 74 (2019) 33–42
what happens when night falls”(van Liempt, van Aslst, & Schwanen, 2015, p. 407)–and the same is true of conceptualisations of
futures of automated mobilities and (automated) tourism mobilities. The focus of attention to date has been on the day-time/day-light
use of CAVs –whether private or shared (e.g. work/school commuting). In the urban night, van Liempt et al. (2015, p. 408) suggest
that “a variety of practices and emotions gain traction within a particular space–time which generate a special atmosphere associated
with particular activities, experiences and possibilities”.Shaw (2014) reminds us that the night-time economy is more than the
“criminal acts, a rendezvous for lovers, nonconventional behaviours, or organizing rebellion”, as noted by Williams (2008, p. 518) –
and that it is much more than an economy, with unique and distinct atmospheres, sensations and feelings. Yet a focus on the urban
night oﬀers the opportunity to examine the intersection of CAV innovation and wide ranging, night-time tourist experiences.
The deployment of CAVs in cities will aﬀect hotels, events, restaurants and bars in ways not yet meaningfully considered by the
tourism, hospitality and events industries, or the academy. Tourism in the urban night is intricately connected to the hospitality
industry. At the same time, violent crime and antisocial behaviour often take place in areas of busy nightlife (e.g. Bromley & Nelson,
2002), thus the intersection of automated mobility and the urban night demands systematic and place-speciﬁc analyses. This might
include questions of how prostitution, and sex more generally, in moving CAVs, becomes a growing phenomenon. For instance,
‘hotels-by-the-hour’are likely to be replaced by CAVs, and this will have implications for urban tourism, as sex plays a central role in
many tourism experiences (e.g. Carr, 2016). While SCAVs will likely be monitored to deter passengers having sex or using drugs in
them, and to prevent violence, such surveillance may be rapidly overcome, disabled or removed. Moreover, personal CAVs will likely
be immune from such surveillance. Such private CAVs may also be put to commercial use, as it is just a small leap to imagine
Amsterdam’s Red Light District ‘on the move’.
Cities may also encounter increases in attendance at events, as attendees may travel by CAV without the need to access traditional
public transport, or park –with far reaching positive and negative implications. Restaurants may ﬁnd themselves in competition with
CAVs that become moving restaurants, or combine urban sightseeing with dining –as exist today with dinner cruises. Evening CAV
city tours may in this sense become more popular, and be combined with increases in alcohol consumption, as drunk-driving will no
longer be an issue when riding in a CAV. City visitors might also therefore drink more at bars and restaurants, but additionally may
spread drinking out more geographically. Stag and hen dos may become spread out, as opposed to concentrated in particular bar
districts, and reliant on CAVs to move drunken revellers across greater distances between drinks in the urban night, perhaps even
crossing multiple cities.
Claims have been made that hotel location will become less signiﬁcant in guest selection criteria (Bainbridge, 2018) as it will no
longer be as important that hotels are located by public transport, other hotels, or other types of facilities such as bars or restaurants,
which will in many cases be easily reached through CAV travel. Such claims appear to overlook the heterogeneous urban mobilities
and tourist experiences that make up urban tourism. Urban visitor accommodation will be aﬀected however by CAVs in other ways.
Many hotels, as in the US for example, are adjacent to motorways that link cities. Widespread use of CAVs may aﬀect travel patterns
so that passengers decide to sleep in their car, while it takes them onwards to their ﬁnal destination, rather than overnight in these
hotels (Henderson & Spencer, 2016). CAVs as ‘moving motels’would aﬀect both business and leisure travellers in this respect and
would not just be limited to autonomous campervans. Thus the present day night-time motorways, highways and autobahns, oc-
cupied predominantly by heavy-goods-vehicles moving goods across the country, may become ﬁlled by slow-moving CAVs with
There are many uncertainties about the emergence and diﬀusion of CAVs across the world. If, how, where, when and at what pace
CAVs emerge, and their potential implications for far-reaching industries, sectors, practices and infrastructures, are contingent on a
range of assumptions. In this paper, we have imagined what a limited set of futures of urban tourism might look, sound and feel like
with diﬀerent conﬁgurations of CAV innovations (e.g. private versus shared). Our discussion was framed by key areas of research in
urban studies relating to mobility rights regimes, gentriﬁcation, sustainability, (re)conceptualisations of ‘cores’and ‘peripheries’, and
urban innovation and experimentation, and centred primarily on how CAVs can be expected to impact cities in relation to tourism
transport mode use, spatial changes, tourism employment and the night-time (visitor) economy. Each of these areas rendered a
number of key social and behavioural issues that not only form areas of inquiry for further research, but should also demand the
immediate and ongoing attention of urban planners, policy makers and the tourism industry.
The paper therefore contributes a foundation and starting point for a new empirical sub-ﬁeld in tourism research, centred on CAV
innovations and the tourism system, which will help structure the formation of knowledge in this area through empirical studies in
the years that follow. This sub-ﬁeld may build upon, and relate to, growing bodies of work focusing on urban automation and robotics
more broadly, to consider the wide-ranging ways that robotics and automation may intersect with tourism studies (e.g. robotic
servers, hosts, entertainers). To facilitate this further, we now provide a concluding research agenda that hopefully will inspire
scholars to take the study of CAVs and tourism forward empirically in a range of directions. This paper’s imaginings has revealed a
number of domains likely to be most aﬀected by the introduction of CAVs, which may help to structure future more ﬁne-grained
analyses, namely around the changing nature of taxis, car hire, bus and coach sightseeing, the routing of city tours, parking and
mobile hotels and restaurants.
Our analysis has thrown light on questions relating to how tourism studies conceptualises mobility and immobility –for instance
by way of tourism infrastructure(s) including accommodation. The dominant static notion of accommodation as a mooring –a point
of stability –will be reconﬁgured by CAV innovations, which may enable a proliferation of ‘moving hotels’. Such night-time
movements are not overly radical; night trains and buses have been a popular, and often low-cost mode of travel/accommodation,
S.A. Cohen, D. Hopkins Annals of Tourism Research 74 (2019) 33–42
mostly for budget travellers. However, CAVs could oﬀer personalised, private travel, or high-end luxury mobile accommodation. This
could change the dynamics of night-time roading, a time often used for repairs and by long-haul trucking companies, as roads
becomes inundated with sleeping pods. For tourists short-on-time, this could maximise opportunities to see multiple sites, and travel
overnight –much akin to cruise tours –and potentially with many of the same issues emerging. Such innovation pushes tourism
scholars to rethink traditional framings of mobilities and moorings, of ﬂows and rhythms, for which mobilities scholarship may be
Reconceptualising the night-time also intersects with considerations of mobilities in the urban night, and the ways through which
CAVs might aﬀord new types of activities, practices, interactions and socialities, whilst preventing others. Future research might seek
to better understand informal interactions between tourists and ‘locals’, and use innovative approaches to consider how these might
be extended or reduced, or reconﬁgured in new directions in a CAV future. SCAVs may develop so as to cater only to locals, only to
tourists or possibly to both, thereby creating opportunities for interaction. This intersects with considerations of tourism work and
workers –and how social interactions may change as a result not only of CAV innovation but wider propositions of robotic work
including in care and hospitalities.
This paper only discussed intercity travel brieﬂy, yet it is in this context, and in rural travel more generally, where aﬀective
attachment to driving itself, as an embodied and integral part of travel experiences, may present a barrier to CAV adoption. Among
some drivers there are strong attachments to driving, due to aﬀective, sensory and symbolic dimensions (Sheller, 2004), and links to
personal identities, which will be diﬃcult for CAV technologies to unseat. Further research will be needed on how non-rational
attachments to driving for leisure and tourism purposes may stand in the way of CAV use in tourism.
A range of issues relating to governing CAVs in relation to tourism also require further exploration. To date, such thinking has
been limited to everyday –and day-time –mobilities. Tourism and leisure users have, however, been some of the ﬁrst to experience
automated vehicle technologies. Future thinking needs to diversify into the broader suite of (potential) users, and temporalities.
Moreover, urban planners will need an understanding of who may beneﬁt from the transformation of urban space resulting from high
CAV adoption, and who is likely to suﬀer mobility injustices as a result –CAVs undoubtedly have the potential to replicate, per-
petuate and potentially extend current inequalities. They will also need research that informs policies on how to safeguard urban
attractions from the use of CAVs for terror attacks. Governance will likely be required to protect CAV users’travel data from misuse
for commercial purposes, and to regulate the algorithms that will underlie personalised CAV urban sightseeing, so the routes do not
fall prey too heavily towards commercial interests, and create stark economic inequities between attractions and businesses that can
and cannot aﬀord to pay to be part of the routes.
We also call for future work that provides context-speciﬁc analyses that may reveal alternative ways of thinking about CAVs for
urban tourism. As Kellerman (2018, p. 116) observes, ‘[t]he pace of AV adoption may not only diﬀer individually among people, but
it may further diﬀer among countries’, and we would take this further to suggest there will also be highly diﬀerentiated paces of
adoption within and across cities. CAVs will emerge in and impact certain cities earlier than others, and while the eﬀects will initially
be centred largely within the global north, there will be diﬀerential impacts across space and time in cities globally. Moreover, critical
social science analysis is required to unpack the potential for CAV innovation and its dominant technological solutionist, neoliberal
discourse to distract from other, arguably more pressing concerns, such as decarbonising mobilities (including but not exclusively
tourism-related), urban inequalities and social justice. Whether or not CAVs become dominant in urban spaces is, as yet, unclear. And
if they do, the conﬁgurations of CAVs and non-CAVs, of ownership styles and of fuels are also uncertain. However, these very
uncertainties oﬀer timely, interesting and important opportunities for scholars to reconceptualise the urban in tourism studies, and to
delve into the inner workings of urban life and urban tourism to contribute to discourses of urban futures.
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Prof. Scott Cohen [School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, University of Surrey, Guildford, GU2 7XH, UK. Email <email@example.com > ] is Professor of
Tourism and Transport at the University of Surrey.
Dr. Debbie Hopkins is Departmental Research Lecturer at the University of Oxford, jointly appointed by the Transport Studies Unit and the School of Geography and
the Environment. Scott and Debbie have shared research interests in the mobility of people and sustainable transport.
S.A. Cohen, D. Hopkins Annals of Tourism Research 74 (2019) 33–42