Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Videoconferencing Conundrum

As a cheerleader for protection of the environment, my initial reaction to video conferencing is, of course, that it is a great idea. It almost eliminates the carbon impact of travel entirely. All you have to do is show up at your office or a nearby location where video conferencing is available, have your "face-to-face" meeting, and return to your work. Not bad, eh? Not having to sweat making a flight, getting through security, and going through all of the other inefficiencies of travel? Well, in the case of video conferencing what is good for the planet is not necessarily good for the travel business—especially hotels. And that is the conundrum.

According to an article appearing recently in the Chicago Tribune, many companies are slashing travel budgets and real face-to-face meetings and transitioning to video conferencing. Cisco Systems Inc., for example, has cut its annual travel budget by two-thirds, to $240 million from $750 million, by using video conferencing technology. Video conferencing technology has improved in recent years to the point where it is highly reliable.

As the recession resides, business travel will pick up once more but one has to wonder if companies like Cisco will ever allocate the same kind of dollars for business travel again. What is a hotel company to do? Offering video conferencing services is certainly a good idea, of course. Finding new ways to identify and market to prospective customers is also important—through social networking tools like Twitter, for example.

As an environmentalist and lodging industry supporter, the issue of video conferencing tears me in half. What do you think?


T.S. said...

You know I think it's a lot like the transportation debate. Cars, like air travel, produce a lot of green house gases. Our obsession with cars has fueled a lot of environmental and even arguably social problems. They've made us lazier, fatter, and at least envrionmentally, dirtier. But you can't and I would argue shouldn't just eliminate them all together. Of course they should be cleaner, more efficient, and maybe even drive themselves, but they serve a useful role in the transportation ecosystem. Even as a devout hotelier I'd probably concede that there is a lot of useless corporate travel in our country. Somethings could be done just as easily via a video conference. Does this mean we should eliminate travel or that travel is bad? No way. It's necessary, but sometimes we just need to be a little smarter about choosing the right communications tool.

Anonymous said...

Well said. It's all about ballance.