Book Review (Beaverstock et al. 2010)

Cover of International Business Travel in the Global Economy

International Business Travel in the Global Economy

Edited by Jonathan Beaverstock, Ben Derudder, James Faulconbridge and Frank Witlox.

2010, Ashgate, 280 pages, ISBN 075467942X, £55 (hbk).

Reviewed by Bodo Kubartz, University of Oklahoma (04 May 2011)

Over the last few years, the pendulum has been swinging back: while economic geographers have been keen to investigate locally-bound economic action in the past, the recent focus is on temporal co-presence and mobility and how they work as motors and enablers of globalization. The argument is as follows: in economic geography, much has been said about locales and locations, their stories of becoming and being, and their contexts of regional development, innovation, and knowledge. However, the contrasting focus on travel develops out of a new focus in economic geography – the studies of global work, professionals and professionalization, and mobility. Thus, travel is both a strategy and solution of companies that both directly and indirectly fuel the process of globalization and the becoming of transnational corporations. The book under review here contributes to this recent focus in that it understands international business travel as the fuel enabling co-presence and mobility in the era of globalization. International business travel is defined as “a set of practices and processes related not only to the articulation of the global economy, but also to culture, behaviour, status and even leisure mobilities” (in the Foreword by Brian Graham, p. xxiii). This definition integrates mainstream understandings of ‘globalization’ in the discipline, but it also adds insights through terms such as ‘practices and processes’ to the dynamic picture and promotes a further understanding of what travel means for economic change.

The book is divided into three major parts, with the parts thematically organized: the first  dealing with the airline industry and the international business travelers, i.e. the “geographies and modes of business travel” (p. 3); the second part investigates mobility in international business activities; and, the third part focuses on socio-economic causes and consequences of travel and effects on the global economy. Beaverstock et al. intend to approach international business travel holistically. They integrate all significant decision-makers as well as sets of processes and practices. In the book it is summarized that travel has increased significantly over the decades and has become an important mechanism to drive the global economy. The book describes and analyzes who is affecting and affected by this development and how it shapes the geographies of the space-economy.

Beaverstock et al. aim to investigate international business travel from an interdisciplinary point of view. Thus, both the audiences as well as the contributors are multiple. Different academic perspectives are presented through their ways and means of asking and answering questions. The editors are, however, geographers and although the book came out in Ashgate’s “Transport and Mobility Series,” a rootedness in overall geographical questions and topics is recognizable, intended, and justifiably focuses on the main research question that looks at the outcomes of travel for the global economy.

Beaverstock et al. deliver against these aims and highlight several challenging aspects that are not only related to the study of international business travel: how to gather and qualify data about international business travel (Beaverstock and Faulconbridge, Chapter 4), how to rationalize and structure international business travel (Salt, Chapter 6; Wickham and Vecci, Chapter 7; and Lassen, Chapter 10), how to socialize international business travel, i.e. how to characterize the non-work related effects of mobility (Budd and Hubbard, Chapter 5; Kesselring and Vogl, Chapter 8; and Kellerman, Chapter 9), and how to compare it with other modes of mediation and communication (Jones, Chapter 11; Denstadli and Gripsrud, Chapter 12). The book benefits from a new perspective on these issues, namely that travel is fueling the global economy and that it is not an outcome of globalization.

Some suggestions are offered. First, the chapters in the book have a tendency to fall back on old dualisms such as mobility versus immobility, working time versus leisure time, travel versus communication, and paid working versus non-paid working time. Several chapters hint at the fact that these dualisms are not dichotomies since they are not exclusive. In my view, these dualisms can as well be analytically fruitful and theoretically enriching; however, they are rather static from an empirical viewpoint. Furthermore, the issue with dualisms is that other additional categories tend to become juxtaposed. The aspect of behavior, practices, and processes while traveling could be fruitfully engaged with the mingling of different time-scapes. Second, the chapters tend to emphasize how passengers travel, but neglect the meaning of travel while traveling in terms of cultural coordination and interaction. The passenger is not actually investigated on the way, but either at home (thus, not traveling) or at the other place (after the travel). Third, early on it is mentioned that “all economic activity is grounded in specific locations” (Foreword by Graham, p. xxi). According to this unquestionable comment, a stronger focus on airports and the networks that belong to them could have made the argument stronger that travel starts and ends at particular points. Furthermore, a plethora of economic activities are intertwined with this focus such as the hotel industry (e.g. Chapter 4), car rentals, ground transportation as well as high-end leisure activities. These practices, processes, and activities could be a connection point to debates about localities, local economic activities, and local and regional connectivity.  Finally, the aspect of non-mobility is particularly eschewed and deserves a greater coverage.

In general, the contribution made in this book is at the forefront of current debates in economic geography since it approaches questions that deal with aspects such as proximity and distance; presence, co-presence, and relatedness; and socio-economically as well as technologically-mediated communication. It contributes to these topics in economic geography but it also leads to a conceptual reflection of regional studies and regional economic change. Thus, the book is a valuable addition for researchers studying processes and practices according to a relational understanding of space.

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