Rather like joining the Navy, but with fewer opportunities to wear bell-bottom flares and epaulettes, many people find themselves working in international business because they want to "see the world". In the Navy, I imagine, this world looks, most of the time, like the inside of a ship; for many international business travellers, it will look like an airport departure lounge, the back of a Boeing 737 seat or the unfettered glamour of a mid-priced hotel room. Illusions, sometimes, can be quickly shattered.
The flipside of this, and probably something you won't find quite so much in the Navy, is the freedom that being a long way from home can bring. Released from the usual daily commitments, travellers are free to do their own thing, break with routines and use the downtime between meetings and room service club sandwiches for a bit of indulgence. At any given time, there are an awful lot of people from all over the world doing exactly that - idly pondering what to do with their time while they travel, or wait to travel.
From the UK alone, this audience represents around 2.6 million people every year - an astonishing 25 per cent of upscale Britons (according to the EMS winter 2008 survey) and, for advertisers, a pretty alluring attraction.
Getting into the heads of this audience is, however, another matter. Relatively little common knowledge exists about travellers' needs and media consumption once they've called their taxis to the airport. To get to grips with this, BBC World News and BBC.com commissioned Mesh Planning to undertake a study of UK travellers' habits and how these impacted on their media consumption.
The research was carried out live as people took their trips. What we found was a group of people with some surprisingly universal foibles and behaviour patterns, and a mindset that was far more open than the one in which they might be found at home.
Media habits on home ground are pretty ingrained. The routine tasks running across the average day, from putting the kettle on through to driving to the office or catching the train, followed by lunchtime surfing and evening TV, will tend to involve the same pattern of media exposure and the same media channels. At home, in spite of the choice available, people still tend to select from a fairly limited self-imposed palette of media options. Because time is pressured and attention divided, convenience will often be the prime influence.
But the second they leave home, business travellers enter a new state. In severing the connections with friends, family and work colleagues, the traveller effectively frees up a section of headspace and finds a need to fill this gap. This was interesting for us as we found how this impacts on their need for news. As a way of catching up with home, keeping an eye on what friends and family might be experiencing, news becomes an important crutch for the traveller.
But it's not just news from home. Part of the mindset adopted by travellers is a new appetite for the culture in which they now find themselves. This means that local media is often devoured with considerable relish. In fact, there is a sense that, overall, the traveller becomes more attentive, more open to new media experiences, in the same way they might sample the local cuisine. It helps travellers to settle in and immerse themselves in their new environment.
It's this idea of settling in that forms the basis of some of the more intriguing findings in the study. There seems to be a noticeable need for travellers to seek comfort and control of their new environment. Leaving the comfort of the familiar creates a sense of vulnerability. Without the connection to their routine of people, places and tasks, media takes on an elevated importance - with news, once again, sating travellers keen to fill their "me-time" with interesting new things.
Mobile technology has also transformed media consumption during travel. It acts as a kind of filler during periods such as the wait at an airport or the long train or taxi ride. In fact, the need to access the latest news across a range of platforms is quite pronounced, so mobile will segue into frequent online consumption, particularly during the course of the working day, providing valued breaks and, once again, a modicum of familiarity and stability. Then, once back at the hotel in the evening, the TV takes on the role of restful comforter, reminding the traveller of home.
The hotel environment is the most intriguing aspect of the study's findings. Travellers will tend to nest in their rooms, turning them into homes from home. Both TV and online consumption will take on a key role in this process of nesting. News attracts an unusually high level of attention and takes on greater authenticity in the hotel room environment because of the altered motivations and mindsets the traveller typically adopts once there. Not only that, the TV will also bind itself more closely to online. It may spark off a chain of thought, which is then explored online.
The over-riding message from all of this seems to be that travellers, far from being lost to brands while away from home, are highly receptive to certain media and, therefore, may well be at their most receptive to advertising. Naturally, as an international news channel, which is also online and on mobile, this is good for us. But there's a genuine sense that some advertisers are missing a trick with these nomadic but highly valuable, pretty upscale and influential people. The increasing convenience of media options throughout the various points of a business trip means that more or less constant media access is a reality.
Carefully planned campaigns that follow this alert, highly engaged and attentive audience group of people along their journey may yield surprisingly satisfying returns for advertisers.
- Jeremy Nye is the head of audience insight at BBC Global News