Andrew Heathcote Rich Lists editor

Andrew is BRW's Rich lists editor and is responsible for the Rich 200 and Young Rich flagship issues. He also reports on matters relating to wealth and investment for BRW and The Australian Financial Review.

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Gadgets to make road warriors fly

Published 21 February 2013 07:57, Updated 21 February 2013 08:06

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A new generation of gadgets is providing business travellers with a revised armoury as they take to the skies for work.

Reductions to baggage allowances are also forcing them to become smarter about how they pack and what they choose to leave behind.

The advent of faster and more powerful smartphones has been a boon for business travellers.

But their prevalence has failed to replace the need for bigger devices such as laptops, independent web site Australian Business Traveller’s editorial director, David Flynn, says.

“Smartphones have long been standard kit for the road warrior but they really can’t replace more powerful devices – they just make it more convenient to do certain things, especially through apps,” he says.

“On the other hand, the iPad has definitely usurped the laptop for travellers with relatively modest needs – basic web browsing, email, listening to music or watching movies.

“There’s also a clear trend away from larger laptops towards thin and light ‘ultrabooks’ with all-day battery life, such as the MacBook Air.”

The popularity of tablets is, in part, dependant on a traveller’s gender, Flynn says. “I definitely see more women using iPads than notebooks, compared to men. “Blokes still seem to favour the conventional laptop.”

The manager of Sydney travel store Flight 001, Mark Shooter, says gender plays a significant role in the growing level of fragmentation within the business travel market.

“We see more men come through [the store] looking for gadgets and there’s more of a slant towards bags and totes with female customers,” Shooter says.

The chain caters specifically to business travellers. It was started by United States-based John Sencion and Brad John, who met on a flight between New York and Paris in 1998, and has 10 stores across the US, Asia and Sydney.

Shooter says the most noticeable trend from customers in his store is the rising demand for portability. “People want to avoid the queues and travel with carry-on [luggage].”

The Spacepak range of space-saving bags is highly popular, Shooter says. These bags allow a traveller to compress clothing without a vacuum and compartmentalise clean and dirty laundry. They are designed to hold enough clothing for two weeks but be small enough to be carried onto a plane. Noise-cancelling headphones and international power adapters are also big sellers.

Security-conscious customers favour wallets and bags made from materials that block radio frequency identification devices, Shooter says. These radio devices have become popular with thieves who use them to obtain confidential information from unsuspecting passers-by.

Despite being more commonly associated with the backpacker market, travel guides are popular with business travellers, Shooter says. Luxe City Guides are among the new generation of guidebooks that target professionals visiting big cities.

The Grid-It organiser, which holds phones, cameras and other small devices in place with a series of interwoven rubber bands, is another popular item, Shooter says.

“We find there is a great need for people being able to store their gadgets in a way that holds them together and avoids the need for people having to go searching through a bag,” he says.

Smartphone check-ins are a relatively new and welcome phenomena for business travellers. Flynn says: “An increasing number of airports now have their own apps to help you check on your flight, including getting real time alerts on boarding delays. The biggest advantage in recent months has been the debut of Apple’s passbook app, which works with an airline’s online check-in system to save a digital mobile boarding pass onto your iPhone.”

While technology has helped make business travel easier, it also calls into question whether it is still necessary.

“Teleconferencing suites and even online videochat makes it easier to stay in touch, but there’s still no replacement for getting face to face, especially in the initial stages of building contacts and clients,” Flynn says.

“That’s doubly so in Asia, where developing a personal relationship is a [big] part of business.”

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