The world renowned Irish economist David McWilliams is the guest on the Travel Tales with Fergal Podcast this week. David has worked all over the world and he covers a lot of ground, as you would expect from such a knowledgeable academic who has been ranked the 10th most influential economist in the world. Listen here:
David believes passionately that economics should be easily understandable and widely available whilst also making it topical, fun and entertaining. He certainly does that in the podcast where he talks about his student days in America and in Russia learning Russia from ex KGB. He goes in-depth about the character of Russians and why America lost its lustre as a holiday destination during the Trump era. David gives fascinating socio economic, cultural and historical insights into the Caribbean and the impact of slavery still felt today on the islands.
He shares great tales of working for a French bank early in his career and chasing financial disasters around the world in Serbia, Argentina, Ukraine, Russia, Israel and Hong Kong for the Asia crisis.
“I worked in the 1990s as an economist for a large international bank. It meant I ended up anywhere there was a financial crisis. What happened was a financial crisis would flare up so the bank would send over economists to try to figure out what was going on there”.
“When the boss would ask who wants to go to some troubled spot, then all my European colleagues would have their heads down, and I would always stick my hand up and say yes I’ll go. The Irish are nomads by nature so it was natural I would always want to go. I loved it and it gave me a great sense of how world economies worked”.
“The Irish need to get off this island. I love travel and that is why I find the lockdown such a pain. I find it very hard to just consume Irish opinion all the time. I am very much a citizen of the world and feel more comfortable outside this country in many ways. Not so much more comfortable but a curiosity clicks in when I’m away, that is not always there when I’m in Ireland”.
David has a great eye for seeing cultural trends and often sees them before anyone else and he shares prescient insights into the future of business travel in the era of the pandemic and reflects on the age-old power dynamics of travel in the workplace.
Business travel may never be the same after the pandemic according to David. We could be seeing the end of the business trip. Companies now realise people can meet over zoom and make huge savings on travel costs, but this will affect cities like Dublin.
“It is estimated that while business travellers constitute less than 10 per cent of passengers, they generate three quarters of airline profits. However, right now business travel is down 96 per cent since the start of 2020”.
“2019 was what they call “peak take off”, which was the year when more planes flew than any other year. But everything has a link, and this is why half of Dublin rents have been driven up by airline leasing companies. I hope business travel doesn’t stop completely. You do business with people you know, and it is hard to get to know people over Zoom”.
“But we have to be cognisant of the impact of travel on the environment. I was probably a bad example of not worrying about the environment as I travel a lot by plane for work. But I don’t like going by boat or the idea of going back to taking two days to get to France but if we have to do it, we have to do it, to help the environment.
David is famous for his cultural insights like his famous “breakfast roll man” and coining the phrase “Celtic tiger”. He gives a very insightful and funny profile of the status involved in business travel. Businesspeople talk of the burden of travel for work but in the fragile world of corporate hierarchy, the frequent flyer secretly loves the perceived glamour of business travel.
“I have always been fascinated by hierarchy, class and status. The small signals business travellers send. The guy in the office at the water cooler who boasts “I am amazed by the coffee in the new airport in Seoul or the traffic was horrendous in Milan”. It is the virtue signalling of the painful work colleague”.
But the real power in the office is the person who doesn’t have to travel. “It goes back to ancient times and if you look at the Roman emperors like Caesar they never travelled anywhere. I call it the cosmology of the table. The power dynamic was come to my house, eat my food, sit at my table and this still takes place in the 21st century. Really posh people don’t collect air-miles”.
Fergal O’Keeffe is the host of Ireland’s No.1 Travel Podcast Travel Tales with Fergal which is a weekly interview series listened to in over 50 countries. He interviews a special guest about their travels, adventures and experiences living abroad. The guests all have inspirational stories that enable people to armchair travel in their imagination.
The Travel Tales with Fergal Podcast is available on all podcast platforms and people can follow all his updates on @traveltaleswithfergal on Instagram and @FergalTravel on Twitter. The website is https://shows.acast.com/ travel-tales-with-fergal.