At Spin Two Swords
The Point of Spaceports
In any TL 8 civilization or above, there are plenty of places to land a spacecraft. Perhaps, on the planet there are laws that keep alien ships at bay, and it is likely that these laws extend up to their platforms in Geo Synchronous Orbit (GSO). However, keep in mind, off-world traffic is a large source of income for most alien economies. Most planets with law levels of 3 or lower will most likely welcome Travellers to any part of their planet, and even planets up to law level 5 may allow Travellers to deal directly with participating industries. Given the boon that off-world merchants represent to local economies, even the most lawless places may have strict rules about mistreating merchants so mixing with the natives may be far safer than suggested in the Traveller books. Only truly draconian societies would shun offworlders and even then, it is in spite of their potential, not because. Tyrants tend to want to control such things.
The question must eventually come up, then, why spaceports are needed except on these draconian worlds (where they act less as centers of commerce and more as outposts of Imperial law). If we imagine, for instance, a planet that has 8 floating factories in GSO, why couldn’t the merchant just go to the factories and do pick ups? Or perhaps more to the point, why would the floating factory find it advantageous to take their wares to the spaceport to sell?
The old answer was that it was imperial law that made the spaceport a popular destination, but clearly, this is not always the case, especially not if harassment of speculative buyers is simply bad for a planet’s economy. Moreover, the hassle of Imperial intervention as well as the economic prices of a limited stock make spaceports more troublesome than they are depicted in the game books. You go to the Spaceport, you buy what’s at the spaceport. You do some computer research and you may find that the really worthwhile stuff doesn’t bother going to the port; they let the merchants come to them.
Even in situations where the industry needs to centralize in order to do business, a factory that produces a lot of goods would find it inconvenient to schlep it all down to the Spaceport. They would more than likely send, instead, an agent of the company. Depending on law level, the agent would either then accompany the Travellers back to the factory or have the factory deliver so many units at X price to the spaceport. They would normally send an agent simply because they understand how travellers do business: they don’t want to fly all over the planet to buy electronics and would often rather operate out of a central hub. On the other hand, on a world where everyone sells pharmaceuticals, the one factory producing luxury items might find themselves in high enough demand that offworld merchants would have to find them out. The company might have multiple agents. They might even have agents floating in orbit, if that’s permissible, to make deals with merchants before they land.
Moreover, its only natural that a traveler may find most prices more or less inflated at the spaceport(transportation fees and price fixing become a factor). It’s quite possible that a merchant who is willing to go right to the source, may find a better deal. They may even find suppliers who are too poor to transport materials to the spaceport and who would be, therefore, desperate to make a sale.
Avoiding Imperial territory carries its own advantages as well. They cannot tax what they do not know about. A ship willing to bend or break the law is better able to operate outside of imperial jurisdiction.
Who, then, are Starports for? Starports are designed specifically for traders who haven’t yet laid hands on a contract and for sellers who are operating independently. On worlds open to the idea of off world business, chances are that a factory already has transport contracts to nearby planets. They may look for spacers to cover the odd surplus at the spaceport or they may contact spacers at the factory itself; it all depends on how fast they want it moved. The spaceport is often a place where jobs are posted specifically for spacers. It is also a place where people who need the law of the Imperium are likely to be located. Finally, the spaceport is a likely place to find passengers.