The Future of Travel column is a monthly series exploring the innovations and bold ideas moving travel forward.
In the mid-1960s, a travel agent on the East Coast started taking deposits for the first commercial trip to the moon, which has still never happened—at least yet.
Swept up in the Cold War space race, hospitality futurists had a firm belief travelers would soon be jetting beyond Earth. And the late Hilton CEO and president William Barron Hilton quickly saw the financial potential: they'd need somewhere to stay.
Hilton cited the anecdote of the moon travel agent in a talk at the American Astronautical Society conference in 1967, where he unveiled his hopes to build the first hotels off of our home planet, both on the moon and space stations in Earth’s orbit. “I firmly believe that we are going to have Hiltons in outer space,” he said. “Perhaps even soon enough for me to officiate at the formal opening of the first.”
The idea may not have come to fruition, but it was far more than a marketing gimmick, says Mark Young, a hotel historian and archivist at the Hilton College, University of Houston. “People really took it seriously, and he did, too,” Young says. “We’ve got hundreds of letters from around the world where people heard about his talk and then they’re asking for reservations for the first hotel on the moon.” The closest any of them ever got to a Hilton in space was the brand’s space station cameo in Stanley Kubrick’s epic 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Now space hotels are trending again with the rise of private space flights, Young says. “I haven't seen this much interest in space travel since the ’60s.”
A number of factors means that the ultra rich enjoying a DoubleTree cookie in space, as astronauts did in 2019, no longer seems all that far off. And as power in space quickly shifts from legacy government agencies toward billionaires, issues like space tourism ethics and private sector tycoons controlling access to outer space no longer seem so speculative—nor trivial, when you consider the billions of dollars pumped into the emerging industry or its growing climate impacts.
Hotels in orbit are now serious business
“If someone was talking about a space hotel 10 years ago, I would’ve been like, that’s never going to happen,” says Jordan Bimm, a space historian at the University of Chicago and recent Guggenheim fellow at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.