"Global nomads" offer new model of cosmopolitanism
Bardhi

Assistant marketing professor Fleura Bardhi studies global nomads. Photo by Craig Bailey

October 9, 2009

With little or no affinity for their homeland, and lacking in familial connections to products or services that would inspire nostalgic good feelings in other travelers — the smell of McDonald’s burgers, for example, appeals to Americans traveling in China— a new breed of world-traveler, known as “global nomads,” eschew such sentimentalities and confound those who would market to them, says Fleura Bardhi.

In her ongoing research on the emergence of global nomads in the international marketplace, the assistant professor of marketing has noticed behavioral and attitudinal trends among people she says are “unmoored from consumer and national identities through global mobility.”

“Global nomads are detached from place or culture. They don’t want to stay connected to a particular locale, but instead, they get in and learn what they need to adapt; for example, by developing appropriate social and cultural skills,” she says. “They’re often in a location for professional reasons, and once they’re done, they move on.”

These findings “advance our current understanding of cosmopolitanism,” she adds.  “Global nomads experience being a ‘stranger’ every time they relocate. These unique shared experiences allow them entry in the neo-nomadic third culture.”

Bardhi studied CEOs and other executives, aged 40 to 65, who travel more than 50 percent of any given year. Unlike tourists and other business travelers, the global nomads she looked at were like islands unto themselves, she says, feeling no affinity for their homeland, or for any consumer brands or products that would remind them of home.

Her studies centered on the most extreme cases of a population whose numbers are still largely unknown.  Although data exists about total numbers of airplane travelers and international tourists, Bardhi says it is unknown how many jet-setting nomads are crisscrossing the world.

But Bardhi knows some things about their nature.

Having studied CEOs, diplomats and all manner of consultants in fields including information technology, environment and business, Bardhi’s research concludes they are very different than typical travelers.
Often living out of hotels, or multiple homes and apartments in major metropolitan areas, their consumption tastes, as well as relationships to people, and a sense of place, is unlike that of a typical traveler and consumer, she adds.

Members of this new culture, lacking in ties to a national mindset, often share a more global identity influenced by shared concerns around issues, she says. For example, a global nomad working for an environmental NGO would identify most closely with fellow environmentalists, regardless of nationality. 

This membership enables them to maintain detachment and relocate easier than other mobile populations, she says. “They can pick up and leave at any point,” she says.

One female executive whom Bardhi studied simply did not identify with her homeland, Romania. Instead, she and her equally well-traveled husband maintained a home in Washington, D.C., and another in South Africa.

The woman was a rare example of a global nomad who maintained a successful personal relationship. Most interviewed in her study were either single or divorced, she notes.

By comparison, American tourists on holiday in China for 10 days, whom she studied, were desperate for the sights and sounds of home after day two, she notes.

“By that second day, they were drawn to McDonald’s to the point that we started to call McDonald’s the U.S. Embassy of China. The smell of a hamburger, or of pizza was reassuring to them,” she says.

An extensive world traveler herself, Bardhi was born in Albania and educated in Norway, England and the United States. Bardhi plans next to study ways of marketing products to global nomad, a group she sees as critical in the globalization trend.

For more information, please contact Susan Salk at 617-373-5446 or at s.salk@neu.edu.

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