Jet lag deters tourists more than distance

This study provides another piece of evidence of the importance of space and location in shaping international economic activity
- Professor Eric Neumayer

Time zone differences have a stronger effect on tourism than geographical distance, according to new research from LSE and Danube University Krems, Austria.

This means that tourists, in an effort to avoid jet lag, are more likely to travel further to a country within the same time zone or a country with only a small time difference, than to an equally far country with a larger time zone difference. At the margin, they will on average even prefer a location further away as long as the time zone difference is less.

The research, by Eric Neumayer, Professor of Environment and Development at LSE, and Mathias Czaika, Professor in Migration and Integration at Danube University Krems, Austria, is the first to analyse the effect of time zone differences on international tourist travel over and beyond the effect of geographical distance. Previous studies have already shown that international trade and foreign direct investment are negatively affected by time zone differences because of two main reasons: the reduction of overlap in normal business hours and the negative impact on the well-being of individuals that travelling across time zones can have.

The researchers studied total annual arrivals and overnight stays between pairs of countries in a global sample over 1995-2013. It found that international tourist arrivals between two countries are reduced by an average of 11.6 per cent per hour time difference.

For countries such as Russia, Canada and the US which stretch over more than one time zone, the respective time zone for the research was generated via the mean of all its time zones. China insists on one single time zone throughout despite a large East-West extension, with the consequence that some parts of the country are well above two hours off their solar time given their longitudinal position. Other countries, such as Argentina and Spain, adopt time zones that are inconsistent with their longitudinal coordinate in order to share a time zone with an important trading or political partner. As a consequence, not a single time zone follows vertical longitudinal lines on a world map, as they would if the time zone followed solar time, but all of them exhibit bulges on either side.

The researchers estimate that a time zone difference of eight hours reduces international tourism by about 88 per cent. After eight hours, additional hours of time difference are not statistically significantly different from the effect at eight hours. One possible interpretation is that after the eight hours threshold, additional hours no longer make much difference since the circadian clock (one’s bio-physical clock) is already completely out of tune with the time in the destination country.

It concludes: “This study provides another piece of evidence of the importance of space and location in shaping international economic activity. Time zone differences impose an important constraint on the extent to which tourism destinations can convert latent demand for tourism from source countries into actual arrivals if these source countries are located in different time zones.”

On the negative impact of time zone differences on international tourism is published in the journal Current Issues in Tourism.