BTN Research: Rise In Remote Conferencing Prompts Marriott, Starwood
Most companies report saving money though increased use of remote conferencing in the past year, according to original Business Travel News research, a trend to which two major multibrand hotel companies are responding by launching initiatives to incorporate advanced remote conferencing capabilities at their properties.
A BTN survey of 196 corporate travel buyers found that six in 10 respondents had cut travel costs through boosting remote conferencing use in the past 12 months. Of respondents, 45 percent require use of remote conferencing in lieu of travel in some cases.
Remote conferencing technology supplier Cisco said as of July more than 350 organizations have installed its TelePresence solution in more than 2,300 rooms. Such companies as Procter & Gamble and Nordic telecommunications operator TeliaSonera have reported significant travel reductions from using the equipment.
While the economic downturn has boosted the need for cost savings in meetings programs, consultants don't expect that need to disappear when the economy recovers. "The scrutiny that put the magnifying glass on the corporation's meetings isn't just a short-term phenomenon," said George Odom, senior director of business development for Advito, BCD Travel's consulting division. "It's the new way people are managing their meetings, and as the economy gets better, the management of meetings will continue the way it has been forced to in the tough times."
Yet, while remote conferencing will remain a part of travel programs, consultants said it's unlikely that it will replace meeting programs altogether. American Express Global Advisory Services vice president Frank Schnur said that in most cases, companies realize the need for a face-to-face element in meetings. For example, a company that used to meet monthly is now meeting quarterly, using the remote conferencing capabilities to fill in the gaps, he said.
"I don't think we'll see any mandates or hard policies on remote conferencing in general," Schnur said. "There may be a few that move in that direction, and a couple that have already, but some of the ones that have done that are coming back to say it's not sustainable."
Two multibrand hotel companies are banking on remote conferencing to increase their meeting demand. Marriott International and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide announced separate plans to introduce Cisco's TelePresence technology to several properties this year.
Marriott is partnering with AT&T to bring the Cisco TelePresence technology to Marriott, JW Marriott and Renaissance properties in 25 cities, including Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London, New York, San Francisco, Shanghai and Washington, D.C. The company plans the first meeting suites to be operational by the end of October.
Starwood, meanwhile, is working with Singapore-based Tata Communications to bring Cisco TelePresence rooms to 10 of its hotels by year-end. The first rooms will be in Sheraton properties in New York, Sydney and Toronto, and Westin properties at Los Angeles International Airport and Chicago. Mary Casey, Starwood's vice president of strategic sales, said the company hopes to get the first rooms up and running by October and to have 10 operational by the end of the year. Beyond that, Starwood plans to add rooms to properties in Brussels, Hong Kong, Paris, Singapore, Tokyo and other major international business markets.
"We believe that public TelePresence rooms are the key to increasing the accessibility of TelePresence beyond major company offices to their wider ecosystem of users: customers, suppliers, remote workers and business partners," Tata Communications senior vice president of global managed services John Landau said in a statement. "Our partnership with Starwood is a major step towards making this vision a reality."
Casey said the idea for Starwood to install the TelePresence capabilities came directly from a corporate customer a few years ago who wanted assistance in supplementing an event with worldwide remote conferencing.
Since the June 30 announcement of the initiative, corporate inquiries about the project have been steady, she said. "We've had a number of clients asking about pricing, which we haven't determined yet," she said.
In addition to corporate sites, Cisco has several public rooms where the technology is available. Tata Communications has such rooms in London and Boston as well as Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Delhi and Gurgaon in India. It also recently announced an agreement to manage a room in Manila. Both Tata and AT&T have capabilities to link to private Cisco TelePresence locations.
Kevin Iwamoto, vice president of enterprise strategy for meetings technology company StarCite, said the TelePresence strategy was a good one for the hotel companies. Though the price comes down every year, TelePresence technology remains expensive, and the hotels will benefit from those companies that realize the possibility of mixing TelePresence with live meeting elements, he said.
"They are very smart to add that to diversify their portfolio and business mix," Iwamoto said. "It adds another creative option for them to sell their space."