Why We Travel

Updated: Jun 25

In 2016 I published a book called Corporate Travel, Hiding in Plain Sight. I was super conscious that many people had no idea what corporate travel is - and that included young people just going to university.

Yes, you can study tourism (I did); but even with all that knowledge - I had never heard of corporate travel. I wanted to change that.

The History of Travel fills us with Hope

I spent quite a long time researching the history of travel and how its purpose changed over time. The following reasons for travel are copied and amended from the original book.

Read on for some examples of how we’re rooted in history. And how that might help us find a recovery and hope for our industry.

Travel to Trade

Trading commenced when people settled and became versed in agriculture (growing crops and herding animals). When they found they had more than they needed for personal consumption, they started looking for options to trade goods.

In the beginning this might have been within one settlement where grain was swapped for wool, but in the ancient empires trade started to flourish beyond village borders.

For example, in the New Kingdom of Egypt

Based on the country’s vast resources, Egypt developed much faster than its counterparts in the North. The New Kingdom of Egypt saw a rich culture emerging between 1550-1070 BC – about 500 years of relative political stability and wealth.

Helped by the Nile to transport goods, and by the discovery of gold mines, the kingdom flourished.

Hatshepsut is the first female pharaoh who reigned ca. 1470 BC. Her reign was dominated by trade, especially sea trade with Punt, ‘a trading centre (since vanished) on the East African coast beyond the southernmost end of the Red Sea’.

This is likely to be the earliest record of ‘business travel’ on a regional scale.

Travel to Share Knowledge

Because sharing knowledge is so important, language and culture play a large part in its development. And so does a currency system to base value for goods and services.

Both had their beginnings in the Persian Empire.

Quite some 500 years after the New Kingdom of Egypt fell into demise, the Persian empire began to blossom and it can still be traced into modern day Iran.

About 400 BC among many achievements are the ‘Royal Road’ – a stretch of 2,500 kilometres – and the establishment of silver and gold coins for trading.

The exchange of commodities throughout the empire was so great and absolute that words from the Persian marketplaces still have a place in today’s vocabulary, examples are, “bazaar, shawl, as well as lemon, melon and peach - to name but a few.

Travel to Innovate

When travel was more or less the norm to participate in the trading of commodities and information, the desire for merging old with new, known with unknown, became more prevalent.

If ever you chance a look at the map of the Roman Empire (in its heyday) you’ll see they enclosed the whole of the Mediterranean Sea (plus England and Wales); they had to communicate with very different cultures and find ways to engage.

The Romans built a vast infrastructure, including not only highways but also waterways and aqueducts. They were great city planners and had a code of law joining Greek and Roman philosophies and traditions.

They learnt from others and incorporated alien traditions into their own. This was innovation at its best and, naturally, trade and commerce flourished.

Travel to Explore and Educate

Finally, we’re moving towards the explorers: People who travelled to learn about the world, find out new things and then educate those who didn’t travel.

But before moving on to the big names, like Marco Polo and Columbus, let’s have a look at the first truly international trade network:

The Silk Road is a trading network that span from China to Europe as early as 500 BC.

It’s important to understand, even though we use the term Silk Road (or Silk Route), it actually was a network of roads, connecting what’s now Xi’an (think Terracotta Warriors) with Istanbul (think Hagia Sophia) via many different points.

Silk fabric can be traced back in Europe to around 500 BC, however, trading became more frequent under the Han Dynasty. Naturally, many more commodities were traded on this route.

Jump about 1500 years and we encounter Marco Polo

The acclaimed and well-documented journey of Marco Polo lasted three-and-a-half years, travelling from Venice to Beijing (1271-1275).

Much of our understanding of Mongolian and Chinese culture in the 13th century is based on the travel accounts of Marco Polo.

Travel, exploration and education go hand in hand – and can have a very long-lasting influence.

Another 200 years on and Christopher Columbus discovers America.

Or India – as he thought. He’s not even the true discoverer (this happened about 500 years earlier by the Vikings).

To understand the importance of Columbus’ mission we need to appreciate the race for resources, trade and wealth happening throughout Europe at the time.

Columbus was convinced that he could offer his sponsoring nation a distinct competitive advantage by cutting down travel times, going by sea, rather than by land. He approached the Portuguese, French and English courts before finally finding backing for his trip in Spain.

The journey from Palos de la Frontera, Spain, to the Bahamas in 1492 took 10 weeks and is largely accepted as the first Atlantic exploration.

Back to Today

We’re just at the start of a blip. The coronavirus crisis has and is going to have a huge impact on travel and the world economy.

But I hope this little excursion into history reminds us of where we come from. How much we’ve overcome and how important it is to keep trading, sharing knowledge, innovate and explore - so as humans we can all learn from each other.

Knowing your history is crucial to envision your future. Whether that’s the travel industry history - or your personal history. Looking at what has been, scrutinising and learning from it (without being stuck in it!) is your solid foundation for what you do today - and where you want to go in future.

Please share this (or the video) with anyone who has lost their roots or their hopes for our industry.

Be Clear. Do your Magic. Spell your Life.

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© 2016-2020 by Claudia Unger Ltd.