Two concepts reconcile ports and the markets they service; the foreland and the hinterland. Both are binding imports and exports activities and the geographical spaces they service. The above figure assumes that the hinterland must be completely serviced and that transportation costs are uniform. When competition between ports is possible, there are two types of hinterlands:
- The fundamental (main) hinterland is the space over which a port has the dominant market share. The great majority of the activities are thus using that port for imports or exports.
- The competition margins are areas where two or more ports are in competition. Users have the option of routing their cargoes through a port or another based on factors such as costs, capacity or convenience. A competition margin could be different for imports or exports.
In the contemporary setting where inland transportation is getting more efficient, the fundamental hinterland is being challenged by intense port competition, implying that competition margins are expanding, particularly in areas where several ports are present.
The foreland is the ocean-ward mirror of the hinterland, referring to the ports and overseas markets linked by shipping services from the port. It is above all a maritime space with which a port performs commercial relationships, namely its overseas customers. With the emergence of feeder services and hub ports, the concept of foreland has been expanded as a port that can service a hinterland through a maritime link. The foreland is measured by the share of a port, or a group of ports, being taken over their foreland relatively to the forelands of other ports. It defines the interactions of a port with elements of the global economy.