ITC 2014 Annual Lecture

Why humans travel: What are the fundamental motivations that drive human movement?

The second ITC Annual Lecture

3 July 2014, hosted by Rothschild, London

The ITC was delighted to welcome more than 100 supporters and eminent figures from across the transport and land use sectors for its 2014 Annual Lecture. The ITC Lecture series, which was inaugurated in 2013, explores major strategic questions that will affect the future of transport and how we travel.

The topic for the 2014 Lecture was based on one of the most important questions for policy making – what are the fundamental motivations that drive human travel? Often it is assumed that travel is merely a question of getting from A to B; a by-product of the desire to reach a particular destination. Yet research from a wide range of fields of human knowledge, from evolutionary biology, to neuroscience, psychology and anthropology, are indicating that movement is also a purpose in itself, with impacts on our well-being, our thought processes and the value we place on our time. A deeper understanding of these issues should help us develop policy that better serves human needs.

Simon Linnett, Executive Vice-Chairman at Rothschild and Chairman of the ITC gave the opening address. Thanking the audience, Mr Linnett introduced the ITC’s work and explained that the Lecture was related to one of the ITC’s major research projects exploring the basic motivations that drive travel behaviour. Alan Baxter CBE, Founder of Alan Baxter and Associates and a Trustee of the ITC gave a response, explaining why these issues were important for policy formation, and noting that movement was as important a human function as eating or sleeping, and deserved a similar depth of study.

The first guest Lecturer was Professor Charles Pasternak, Founder and President of the Oxford International Biomedical Centre. Professor Pasternak pointed out that although we share most of our genes with other primates, humans had evolved several specific characteristics, including the development of a precision grip in the human hand, the evolution of the larynx permitting complex speech, and the growth of the cortex in the brain, allowing for powerful resources of memory and thought. This allowed humans, he explained, to exercise their natural curiosity to a greater degree than other animals, in so doing motivating us to travel and reach all corners of the globe. He concluded by warning of the dangers of remaining confined, and of the valuable experiences that would be lost if we failed to travel.

A response was provided by the second guest lecturer: Stephen Bayley, the renowed author, broadcaster, and founder of the Design Museum. He accepted that we might well travel as an end in itself, but suggested that motivations to travel were not only led by curiosity, but also by desire, and particularly the desire to encounter the novel, the delightful and the sense of freedom that travel could sometimes provide. The best designers of vehicles, he observed, had understood the nature of desire and planned accordingly. However, he pointed out that there was little of these aspects in the modern experience of travel, noting the despair of waiting for delayed flights in a congested airport or the unpleasantness of forcing oneself onto a crowded commuter train. Perhaps, he concluded, travel was facing a period of terminal decline as the experience of travellers got worse, and the negative effects of mass tourism became more apparent.

Following a short question and answer session, Philip Rutnam, the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport, gave the vote of thanks. Mr Rutnam expressed his gratitude for the ITC’s investigation of the fundamental aspects of human travel, and hoped that the human satisfaction derived from travel would become an important concern for policy makers.