As originally published in partnership with Financial Times Partner Content, Nov 20, 2023.
“For my part”, wrote Robert Louis Stephenson in his 1879 memoir Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”
The drive to move, discover and connect with others is as old as human history, and its key role in building cultural empathy, social bonds and trade long-established. So, too, is its power to delight, recharge and expand personal horizons. But even in the age of widespread elective travel, which today accounts for almost 10 per cent1 of global GDP, our precise motivations for travelling and the rewards we derive from it still retain some mystery.
That’s why the Independent Transport Commission (ITC), a British transport and land use think tank, recently conducted a major study and published an accompanying book called Why Travel? which explores the social, biological, psychological and cultural factors that have hardwired us with the urge to travel.
The ITC commissioned experts from a diverse range of science, arts and humanities disciplines to gain a better understanding of what drives human travel, with the findings encompassing various aspects of life.
“Obviously, physical activity while travelling brings various benefits, not only in cardiovascular terms but also in producing hormones that create a feeling of wellbeing,” says Matthew Niblett, ITC’s director. “Stimulation from new environments can actually help improve aspects of our cognitive wellbeing, too. And while measuring the benefits of associated social interactions is harder to quantify, increasingly there’s good evidence of their value.”
For a vast global community of business travellers, this principle needs little proving. Corporate travel has long been relied on to build trusted networks across distances and leverage face-to-face contact to catalyse collaboration, enhance productivity and power creative ideation.
But this well-worn landscape has of late been radically reshaped by several factors, including easier accessibility to virtual meeting tools. The worldwide pause imposed on travel, burgeoning connectivity technologies and environmental concerns around aviation are together drawing a new map. While leisure travel has bounced back to close to pre-pandemic levels, the same is not yet true for business travel, and many companies are adopting pared-back corporate travel strategies.
Remarkably, entrepreneur Ralph Thoma, a passionate, lifelong traveller for both business and leisure, lost little sleep over such issues, even as he developed his new premium travel apparel, bags and accessories brand Émigré during the pandemic’s most uncertain times.
"Our values as business travellers were shifting dramatically," says Thoma, acknowledging the impacts of video-conferencing and increasing awareness of life-work balance before Covid even bit. "New solutions were required. We came along to address that through how we feel, how we dress and how we move.”
Thoma’s elegant, minimalist brand Émigré, launched earlier this year, is designed in every detail for adaptability. Experts agree that this will be a defining success factor for the next generations of business travellers, given the ongoing transformation of working models and company travel policies.
“Travel sharp, work smart” is the brand’s motto, and its range of cleanly cut, contemporary apparel pieces and performance-focused bags and accessories are designed to mix and match to suit diverse climates, settings and occasions, including those liminal moments — an unscheduled hour to absorb a new city’s thrilling aesthetics, an impromptu dinner with new colleagues, contemplative time in transit —that Stephenson identified as his travel benefit of choice.
“We’re at the moment in the biggest shake-up in working practices for a generation,” says London-based professor Jeremy Myerson, director of Worktech Academy, author and veteran workplace design expert. “Rather than having a corporate HQ, business workers are likely to work between a network of places and spaces. As more companies become more remote or hybrid in their working practices, there are now new categories of business travel, for example, remote-first companies that have their people travel to come together regularly.
“Sure, companies are cutting back on travel for meetings where you’re simply sharing information or presenting to each other, but to go to a conference with lots of delegates, or brainstorm creatively, you can’t beat face-to-face,” he continues. “And to give and receive hospitality is innately human. So while corporate strategies will change, I can’t see a scenario in which those benefits of business travel are severely curbed.”
Thanks to its in-built versatility and function focus, Émigré looks poised to service all these possibilities by design. “Certain behavioural things, such as home working, frequency of travel and the formality of business clothing, have probably changed forever,” says Thoma. “But the big opportunity we see is to be part of the cultural conversation post-Covid, to help shape where business culture goes next.”
Photography: Jonathan Daniel Pryce | @garconjon
Production: Marits Roberts | @maritsroberts
Featuring: Alino Katombe | @alinokatombe & Freddie Abrahams | @freddieabrahams
Styling: Freddie Foster Kemp | @_freddiekemp_
Grooming: Nuriye Sönmez | @nazsonmez
Location: The Stage | @thestageec2
As originally published in the Financial Times Partner Content, Nov 20, 2023