Are road warriors a thing of the past? Let's hope so

November 02, 2018 17:30
A file picture shows travelers standing at a ticket counter at the Hong Kong airport. Is there anyone who hasn’t encountered a corporate executive preening with self-importance and seeming to care little for the other passengers?  Representative image: Bl

Honestly, these guys (it's usually men) have the gall to call themselves 'road warriors' and they even go so far as to proclaim their 'battle scars'.

The reality is that they are business people, often at executive level, who spend a great deal of time out of the office and are 'scarred' by traveling on planes (the front end) staying at luxury hotels and burdened by working on their expense accounts. Oh yes, it’s a hard life.

Normally these self-deluded people would hardly be worth talking about but despite every reason for their demise there are still a lot of them around and my-oh-my do they make themselves known.

Recently, when waiting to board a plane, one of them almost knocked me off my feet with his wheelie bag, a smart affair, topped off with a computer carrier. 'In a hurry', he curtly explained in his defense, but there was no word of apology. Hmm, I thought, we’re all trying to get on the plane, so what’s the rush but then again I quite missed the sense of entitlement which persuades these ‘warriors’ that their status as VIP travellers creates a need to be the first on board.

So far, so bad but the following day another one of them was parading up and down as I was manfully tackling a hotel breakfast, yes, I know this is a meal for wimps, so apologies all round. Anyway, there he was in front of me in a pristine white shirt, with the two top buttons fashionably disengaged, yelling into thin air, aka some sort of hands free phone device, uttering words like ‘yer, I’ll fix it’ and ‘another mill should do it’.

I’m old fashioned enough to believe that business ought to be conducted in private or at the very least discreetly but these people seem to require an audience for their macho declarations. And, by the by, I wonder whether he did actually manage to fix whatever it was.

Even though encounters of this kind leave me thoroughly underwhelmed it seemed that further research into their being was required and, sure enough, there’s quite a lot around.

An American outfit called Phocuswright has produced a study entitled ‘Inside the Mind of the Modern Road Warrior’ which found that 16 percent of all US business travellers travel as much as the other 84 percent; they, apparently, are ‘the true road warriors’. Half of them are under 35 and more than half earn at least US$100,000 per year. They are tech savvy and big social media users. And unsurprising, are wedded to travel loyalty programs and working out how to get the most benefit from them.

So far, so dull but it gets a whole lot duller as they proffer travel advice, on everything from how to pack, what kind of hotel rooms to select and where you can get a meal that is served and consumed in nanoseconds (ok, that’s an exaggeration but these folk like to exaggerate and it’s catching).

They seem to think that they are somehow doing something new but the reality is that it amounts to much the same as what travelling salesmen used to do, albeit more slowly and in far less comfortable circumstances.

If there is a warrior element to all this it consists of the need to be on the road for long periods of time and away from family life (some see this as an advantage but that’s a rather more complex story). Somewhere in all this travelling there may well be a bit of the going out there, conquering new markets, doing new deals but mostly, truth be told, it’s pretty routine stuff.

The problem, as these tech savvy would-be heroes know full well, is that technology has the means to take them off the road. The whole cacophony of video conferencing, WhatsApping and any number of other applications that facilitate communication at very low cost, makes much of this travelling redundant.

That said, there is always a case for face-to-face encounters and it is generally true to say that relationships deprived of direct contact are less solid than relationships cemented by a beer or two and other kinds of human interaction which eludes cyberspace.

So, technology threatens to eliminate much of this travelling and that probably means the demise of these self-defined road warriors. Or does it? Maybe not because many of them hold senior executive positions and they can make the case for keeping up their frequent flyer privileges, sorry, I mean vital business contacts. It’s lower down the food chain that things are starting to pinch and, to be blunt; the squeeze could not be on a nicer group of people. The prospect of quieter breakfasts looms, as also less jostling at the boarding gate.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author