In view of the current global scenario,
Achal Dhruva attempts to unravel the psyche of the
business traveller headed to ‘unsafe destinations’
we embarked on the incentive trip to Bangkok, there was only
a little anxiety. But once we boarded the Thai Airways flight
to Bangkok, real fear set in. The entire crew and most passengers
were wearing masks due to the SARS outbreak. We also asked
But that was just a glimpse of what
was to follow. After landing in Bangkok, we found the entire
staff at the airport sporting masks. The huge airport was
nearly empty. It was really eerie. I began to wonder if I
had misjudged the situation and debated whether to take the
next flight home.
Nimesh Desai, vice president, sales
and marketing, Cello Furniture, was recalling the trauma that
he went through while taking a group of 40 dealers and distributors,
mostly from Uttar Pradesh, on a six-day incentive tour to
Bangkok in second week of April.
Hong Kong, China and Singapore
had already registered a high number of SARS (Severe Acute
Respiratory Syndrome) cases and a few deaths were also reported.
After gathering information from the Internet and other sources,
I decided to go ahead with the trip because Thailand had not
been in the grip of the epidemic. There were just seven or
eight suspected cases of SARS reported. It was okay to deal
with the anxiety before the trip but the airport was totally
unexpected and unnerving. But once out of the airport, there
was no sign of the epidemic. Life was normal and we had a
wonderful holiday," stated Desai.
Fear, especially of the unknown,
is the probably the biggest affliction of mankind. Experts
believe that it is precisely this factor, which has resulted
in extreme responses to the recent outbreak of SARS. Airlines
suspending flights, a medical conference being cancelled in
Canada, the first travel advisory based on a disease by the
WHO (World Health Organisation) were some of the unprecedented
measures for a new but spreading epidemic.
SARS, experts opine, is hardly the
deadliest disease to have hit mankind. It is less infectious
than influenza and, with a four per cent mortality rate, not
even close to being as deadly as HIV/AIDS which kills all
its victims or malaria which kills up to a million people
every year, mostly children. SARS is new and that scares
people. Whether it is an over-reaction depends on whether
the threat is real and we dont know that yet. The characteristic
at work here is, if it is new, it is always scarier,
claims David Ropeik of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis.
Ropeik believes that tourists who
abandoned plans to visit China and residents who fled affected
apartment blocks because of the presence of a SARS case are
acting on primordial instincts, not logic. It is steeped
more in emotion than in fact. When a threat is new to you,
the safest thing is to get out of the way and then youll
live. The more you dont know, the more you treat it
as a threat and the better you survive," he says.
The same sentiment underlined the
mass fear psychosis of flying in the United States following
the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre.
The country had never witnessed an attack of such magnitude.
Also images of the airplanes colliding into World Trade Centre
and the collapse of the twin towers captured graphically on
camera and televised continuously only fuelled the fear.
Anxiety and fear, according to Dr
Harish Shetty, psychologist, are the two unescapable by-products
of an impending trip to a troubled zone. For business travellers
global village is no longer a concept but a reality.
Satellite communications, supersonic jets, computers and other
technological advances have made it possible to have business
interests in far flung corners of the world. And technology,
while making travel faster and more comfortable, has also
ensured that the business class is kept up-to-date
on all minor and major events occurring worldwide. This particular
benefit can however be a double edged sword. Well
informed might be well armed for a business traveller,
but it also increases their anxiety and stress levels.
Also, like their ancient brethren,
traders who trekked through treacherous mountain passes and
sailed the high seas to make the barter, modern day business
and corporate bigwigs have to travel to countries ripped apart
by civil unrest, devastated by natural calamities and ravaged
Travelling to such troubled
spots is not only fraught with danger but also has a
psychological impact on the mind of the business traveller.
In Dr Shettys opinion, anxiety and panic attacks can
lead to a host of psychosomatic disorders like high blood
pressure, diabetes and in extreme cases, cardiovascular problems.
The more you are aware of a
risk, the more you worry about it. That is why no one panics
when an especially bad influenza epidemic kills 500,000 people
around the world in one year. The reason we are not afraid
of flu is we are not thinking about it, says Ropeik
explaining how the enormous media attention given to SARS
has fuelled fear.
Not just SARS, when confronted with
anything unexpected and unknown, people tend to overreact
which sometimes can be risky. For instance, during the anthrax
attacks in the United States in October 2001, thousands of
people who were nowhere near an anthrax-laced letter took
antibiotics as a precaution. We want to have a sense
of control over our destinies. That is why people rushed to
buy duct tape and plastic sheeting when the US Homeland Security
Department warned about the possibility of a chemical attack,
Coping with anxiety and fear is fairly
simple, according to Dr Shetty (see box). On the flip side,
he feels that foolish bravado or under-reaction can be equally
dangerous. Business travellers, because they travel extensively,
may tend to take things lightly compared to other travellers
and at times overlook simple precautions. A typical under
reaction is exemplified in the complaint of the US Centres
for Disease Control and Prevention that one-third of Americans
who should get flu shots every year, do not, even though influenza
kills 36,000 Americans each year.
On the flight to Bangkok there
were quite a few among the group who felt that foreigners,
as usual, were overreacting and did not call for a mask. In
general I feel that Indian business travellers are more prone
to under-reacting as they are exposed to a whole baggage of
hazards while travelling within the country, says Desai.
In his opinion, it is the immediate
family of the traveller who overreact. He recounts, When
I announced my trip, my family and in-laws went ballistic.
Their anxiety levels were higher than mine. They gave me a
whole list of dos and donts which included dont
consume dairy products, dont eat meat,
drink only boiled water, etc ."
Desai diligently followed most of
the instructions. Its better to be safe than sorry.
In conclusion, though the business
traveller is always face to face with an element of risk,
as Desai puts it, When you got to go, you got to go.
- Weigh the pros and cons of visiting a troubled
- It is very important not to over react.
- Collect accurate information about the issue or
- Follow all prescribed norms and safety guidelines.
- Share your apprehension openly with people you
trust or regard as your mentors. This will help in
easing stress levels without being labelled as a chicken.
- Share information and your feelings about the trip
with the family.
- Indulge in self talk and tell yourself these things
happen and no place is free of natural calamities.
- Put down your first reactions, feelings about the
issue and analyse the same. This will not only help
understand your fears and apprehensions better, but
also help you deal with them.
- Travel in groups or pairs as this will help ease
- Pranayam or some sort of meditation during the
trip will help you stay calm and keep down the stress