Though there are numerous examples of telecommunications providing opportunities to reduce travel, telecommunications also acts in many ways to stimulate the demand for travel.
Telecommunications and travel both involve relationships, as discussed earlier. Maintenance or growth of a relationship of any kind (personal, professional, or business; relationships to people, relationships to activities, and relationships to places) often profits from the direct presence that is the result of travel as well as from the remote interaction made possible by telecommunications. For example,
The existence of cheaper and better voice mail, fax transmission, and e-mail expands the number of people with whom one communicates or increases the number of transactions that require the movement of paper and goods. Higher levels of personal and professional interactions established through telecommunications generate demand for follow-up face-to-face interaction that requires trip-making. Spectacular growth in the use of the worldwide Internet computer network has spurred more international collaboration among scientific researchers in developing countries.
Consider a business that is able to sell its products over a wide geographic area through telemarketing. The development of customers in distant cities entails higher levels of both transportation and telecommunications. Consider a family unit that separates, one spouse and perhaps the children living in one city and the other spouse living in a distant city. This split family likely becomes a big consumer of both telecommunications and transportation services.
The more people one calls on the phone or exchanges e-mail with, the more people are candidates for face-to-face meetings. This complementary nature of telecommunications and travel is especially true when both sides find the relationship desirable, but it is also true when relationships are one-sided. Consider the activities of the police, the Internal Revenue Service, and bill collectors. They use a mixture of telecommunications and travel: phone calls, letters, and visits.
The 38% of leisure time that the average American spends watching TV is time not spent traveling, but presumably the advertising on TV causes people to spend some of their non-TV time traveling to stores to buy things. Higher, more effective levels of TV and radio advertising, telemarketing, and direct mail marketing generate new demand for travel to described locations or generate product shipments on trucks to fulfill customer demand. (Direct mail is telecommunications intensive in that "800" telephone numbers are often part of the order fulfillment process or the mailing list generation process.)
Many, and perhaps most, uses of facsimile and electronic mail do not represent replacements of overnight express package shipments, postal mail, face-to-face meetings, or even other telecommunications modes but rather are communications that simply never would have been considered prior to the availability of these new electronic tools. The highly competitive overnight delivery industry represented by companies like Federal Express and Airborne Express is growing despite the rapid growth of facsimile and electronic mail as means to transmit documents.
The history of videoconferencing over the past 20 years illustrates that the fastest growing applications are not travel substitutions but rather new interactions that had never been allowed to take place using travel resources. The travel-intensive alternative for carrying out these interactions was too expensive (including being too impractical or in violation of rules or customs) to be allowed. Several studies of videoconferencing as an attempt to substitute for face-to-face meetings revealed that total travel increased (Mokhtarian, 1990; Egido, 1988).
Although videoconferencing vendors reported a surge of interest in using their equipment and services during the Gulf War of 1991 as a replacement for long-distance travel (Burgess, 1991), one empirical study on the subject from Norway found no surge in telecommunications activity during the war and a pattern of postponed trips rather than one of trips replaced (Erdal, 1992).
The reach of telecommunications thus generates the knowledge of locations to visit and the motivating relationships to go there. Furthermore, telecommunications creates the linkages that allow travelers to stay in touch with people, work processes, and events back home, thus making travel more feasible. Voice mail, paging, and other telecommunications techniques make people more accessible and productive on an "as-needed" basis while operating in the distant locations that result from travel. If a professional has access to a document on a portable computer via modem attached to a hotel phone, that capability reduces the requirement to stay near the office.
Even if broadband telecommunications becomes more like "being there," the value of using travel to focus human attention exclusively on face-to-face presence, sensate experience, and physical interaction at meetings, places, and events will rise as a principle of economics. Opportunities for such physical presence are inevitably limited by the time and money limits of using transportation, whereas broadband telecommunications creates a world that exponentially enlarges the universe of choices for remote access to information and for interaction. A physical meeting when there are a universe of telecommunications-based alternatives will inevitably have higher value than a video phone call, because the face-to-face meeting illustrates focus on and commitment to a relationship.
In summary, the tendency for telecommunications to substitute for some trips is countered by the propensity of telecommunications to enlarge travel demand. By increasing the total number of relationships that generate travel, the amounts of both transportation and telecommunications are increased.