Road Warriors

The Evolving Nature of Today's Road Warrior

Chris Morris,|Special to

Twenty-first century Road Warriors are a lot different from frequent fliers of a decade ago. They're constantly connected, more nimble, and almost always at the forefront of technology.

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Passengers are pictured at Check-In desks at London's Heathrow airport.
Carl de Souza | AFP | Getty Images

hnology, though, has also thinned their ranks. Web services like WebExand other teleconferencing software make it possible to present materials and sales pitches without ever leaving home.

It's an efficient way of doing business, but often a less than ideal one. Remote meetings might let people make their pitch, but it's much harder to get a sense of how it's being received (or often, if people are even paying attention).

That need for face time is prompting companies to once again boost travel budgets — and the people hitting the road are often accompanied by the latest gadgets to make them more efficient.

Whether it's Pico projectors that both contain and project a demonstration or a smart phone or tablet that let them quickly access information that would have taken hours or days to find just a few years ago, the Road Warrior of 2012 is plugged in at a level that was previously unimaginable.

"It's a huge increase in productivity," says Chris McGinnis, business travel expert and director of Travel Skills Group. "But it puts a lot more pressure on the business traveler to be more productive. Luckily, technology has kept up and productivity has increased. It's made it easier to react quickly to the changing business environment."

The most important tech tools, naturally, have been the cell phone and email, making anyone accessible any time.

A close second, though, is in-flight Wi-Fi. While adoption rates are still fairly low among air carriers, it has become a key factor for most business travelers when deciding which airline to fly.

All of these efficiency advances also make it more affordable to send someone on the road — and with the economic uncertainty of the past few years, that's critical.

The recession of 2008 had a devastating impact on the world of business travel. As stock prices plunged, companies quickly cut back their travel budgets, hoping to shore up their bottom line.

It wasn't until 2010 that frequent fliers were set loose once again on a broad scale — with road warriors logging 448 million overnight business trips, according to the U.S. Travel Association. But the European currency crisis further threatened that recovery. Bookings, which were soaring a year ago, began to level off toward the end of last summer.

While business travel has bounced back on the whole since 2009, it's been a mixed bag on a company-by-company basis. Business Travel News, which ranks firms by business travel spending, reports IBM bumped up spending from $500 million to $545 million from 2010 to 2011.

General Dynamics boosted its travel budget from $65 million to $256 million. And Accenture went from $185 million to $240 million. Not every company was opening its wallet, though. Boeing's travel budget dropped from $381 million to $263 million.

While travel to marquee business destinations like New York, London and Los Angeles really hasn't been affected, many smaller cities have found themselves less frequent destinations, due to technological advances and reduced service.

New areas are becoming popular, though. China is quickly becoming one of the top business destinations — and all signs indicate it's going to be leading the pack for several years.

And waiting in the wings, it appears, is India. Both countries are opening up to investors from other countries. Both are also making major improvements to their national infrastructures, making it easier to do business there.

"Regionally, China is huge," says McGinnis. "All the largest hotel companies in the world have focused nearly all of their growth [there]. ... It's China that's getting the big 400-500 room hotels."