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What if business travel doesn’t return?

Leo Blankenship – VP of Operations & Advisory 

3 August 2021 

What if business travel for training/learning does not come back? 

As I was returning home with our yummy tapas platter, falafel wraps and baklava from our favorite Mediterranean café I was listening to Marketplace on NPR.    

One of the stories described how last Sunday was the largest travel day in the US since February 2020 with about 2.2 million travelers through US TSA checkpoints.  This was the fifth day in a row in excess of two million travelers.  But, almost all of the travelers on those days were leisure and not business travelers.  That was the relevant point of the story to Marketplace.  The business travelers haven’t returned to anything even remotely approaching pre-March 2020 levels and with the continuing prevalence of the Delta variant and other Covid driven challenges, the interviewee was reticent to even project if those levels will ever return.     

This caused me to start contemplating again (as I was hurrying home with the lovely smells of dinner that I ordered online and picked-up curbside, neither of which this café offered pre-Covid) about what if business travel never returns materially for training and events? 

We are now approaching 18 months of employers, employees and clients adopting new muscle memory, new habits, new ways of doing the work, providing services and just getting on with things.  Yes, we’ve all had moments of ‘Zoom/MSTeams fatigue,’ but as the interviewee observed we’ve also saved a lot of money and in many cases realized that “virtual” is good enough.   Most have become quite proficient working, collaborating, leading, coaching, mentoring and caring using the litany of virtual enablement tools, all without any material detriment to productivity.   Although seeing the advert many times per night watching the Olympics coverage is a bit annoying, I think Slack actually says it well in their “Work in Progress” advert…..”We don’t find a new way of working and just go back to an old one.” 

So, what if business travel does not come back?  In particular, what if travel for in-person instructor-led training or events never returns to even a fraction of pre-Covid levels?    

Are we all as learning industry businesses readying ourselves for a permanent virtual instructor-led model for live learning?  Are we readying our businesses for the potential impact of the “Metaverse” for live learning?  (FYI – if you’d like a bit of a primer on the Metaverse, see this amusing take by PCMag and this more cerebral take by the NYTimes.)  

If you/we’re not, my recommendation is that you get started now, right now.  I think it is very likely that the massive expansion of virtual ILT is permanent and the displacement of in-person ILT will never return to levels even remotely close to pre-Covid.  This means that all of the “bootstrap” and “quick-fix” solutions we put in place to effectively deliver virtual ILT over the last 18 months should be top-to-bottom reviewed and possibly re-engineered to ensure they are sustainable permanent operating models.  Oh, and while we’re at it we should start to seriously consider how we will reimagine our ILT delivery in the multi-user Avatar-based Metaverse. 

If you’d like to hear a bit about how we are gearing up to help our learning company clients navigate these challenges, send me a message and I’ll connect back with you soon. 

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