Will the iPad kill business travel?

The business travel market comeback has been going on for quite some time, but it looks like the corporate folks may be losing interest in getting on planes. I can relate to that: back when I lived the road warrior life, there was a certain amount of dread that came to be associated with the alarm clock, the town car and the boarding process. So, it’s hardly surprising that online events are starting to chip away at business travel.

VentureBeat reports that marketing folks are leaning more toward “virtual happenings” in 2011 and are cutting back on physical events. In a survey by virtual events company Unisfair, 62 percent of respondents say they’re pouring more money into online events this year … and that 42 percent are spending less on the physical alternative.

What’s interesting is that it isn’t an aversion to boarding a plane that’s driving this trend. Rather, there are a variety of reasons, all of them customer-driven. Sixty-two percent of respondents indicated that they preferred being able to attend a virtual event via a mobile device or smartphone (e.g., an iPad), and 58 percent like virtual over physical events because they can multitask.

So, how does this affect the future of business travel? Well, VentureBeat notes:

The numbers confirm what much of the business world is already experiencing: That physical attendance at conferences and tradeshows is becoming less frequent as companies switch to cheaper, easier-to-access virtual events.

In fact, the situation is poised to worsen: 87 percent of the survey’s respondents “predict hybrid (part physical, part virtual) events will represent at least half of all events in the next five years.”

In the next half-decade or so, checking in will have more to do with location-based services than hotel rooms, it seems.