Business Travel May Just Be a Thing of the Past

Even before last week's horrific terrorist attacks, businesses—especially high-tech businesses—were experiencing the brunt of the recent economic slowdown, resulting in fewer and shorter business trips. But after watching on live TV the hijacking of four jetliners in the worst terrorist attack of all time, I know many things have changed forever—in this country and around the world. One of those things is air travel.

For businesses already hit by a financial crush, the end result for business travel is simple: It will simply decrease, in many cases dramatically. And airlines, hotels, and many other businesses that earn their living almost solely from business travelers, will be hit the hardest.

When I visited Israel on a business trip last summer, I was amazed by the security, both entering and leaving the country. Military personnel grilled travelers—business travelers in particular—for up to 30 minutes, asking probing questions about the trips and what the travelers did while in the country. I had to open my laptop and show them work I had done while in the country and describe the places I'd visited and the people I'd seen. US citizens won't put up with this level of interrogation every time they fly internationally, but then Israel is often under attack by surrounding countries.

The trip to Israel did install a feeling of security, and although I was traveling to a volatile part of the world, I never felt that I was in danger. I doubt the same can be said of people traveling today in the United States.

On that note, I can't see myself getting on a plane any time soon. Even before the attacks, I struggled with the many problems inherent in air travel. Major airports are crowded and slow, and airplanes cram as many people as possible into the smallest possible space, leaving little room for working or relaxing.

As flyers turn to less expensive and possibly safer alternatives, Amtrak and national bus services such as Greyhound are experiencing a sharp rise in riders. Amtrak in particular is a great option for those traveling up and down the East coast, but when you must go from one coast to the other, you pretty much have to fly.

Unless, of course, you don't have to be there in person to get the job done. Software makers have been touting audio and video conferencing for some time, and Windows XP incorporates Windows Messenger, which provides these services as well as application-sharing capabilities. I had intended to test Windows Messenger on the road, saying goodnight to my son from a hotel room via Webcam. Now, I'm not sure that scenario will happen any time soon.

In short, if you don't have to travel, don't travel. As New York and Washington dig out of the horror of last week, it's time to send our support to the fallen and to those who seek to rescue them. It's also time to reflect on what's really important. Like many of you, I'm staying home for now.

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