One of the jobs I remember with great fondness was a travel job, as a hostess on an international train. I got paid to see things, meet people, learn and speak other languages. What wasn’t there to like about that? With little sleep and constant change it was a job for young people. The job opened up possibilities I hadn’t dreamed of:
Sitting in a dusty bus, windows open to let much wanted hot air circulate, I am watching turbaned men hanging onto the sides and back of the bus. Chickens are cackling in baskets on top, the diesel engine roars above the din of rattling and shaking wheels. Faces are wrapped with cloth against heat and dust, eyes staring at me, each other. The next stop is reason for another meal, another trade. Without travel their families starve.
Sitting in a plush seat, business class, a fluke upgrade for a delayed international flight, I accept the attendant’s little luxuries of a blanket, a glass of wine, bowl of fruit and cheese, a newspaper of my choice. I can stretch out, recline, sleep comfortably if I want. The men, yes, mostly men, around me smile, tell me about their families, their travel purpose. They are earning their comfortable salaries with the swish of a screen, a well timed phone call, a moment of insight. They thrive on the connections made along the way.
Sitting in an early morning commuter train from Amsterdam, just arrived from noisy Mumbai, I enter midwinter in a Northern country, where the overhead white light gives the people in dark clothing a deathly pallor. I am shocked by the silence. Faces are staring at newspapers, work papers, tablets and phone screens. No-one talks. People are together and yet so far apart in their daily travel for survival, a job.
2.7% Of the US gross domestic product (GDP) is attributed to travel and tourism. Twenty five percent of US travel is for business purposes. In 2013 the US spent 266 billion on business travel, compare that with China 225 billion, and the Netherlands 18 billion. Direct spending by resident and international travelers in the U.S. is $28,154 a second, a yearly income for many seniors.
Undeniably, business and other travel in the world is a transformational force for the economy. What that force does to all of us, we’ll explore some more in the next blog.