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Virtual Meetings vs Travel: How big advertising bucks are influencing alternative workplace practices April 1, 2010

Posted by Bob Cook in Alternative Workplace Strategies, Company Case Studies.

The battle’s raging. On one side: the Tech Industry – Cisco, AT&T, Polycom, and the like – touting the benefits of virtual meetings. On the other side: the Travel Industry – Hyatt, American Airlines, British Airways, and their brethren – touting the benefits of live, personal encounters.

The battle is being waged with advertising. At stake is how company dollars are apportioned between tech budgets and travel budgets – and in the balance: the future of virtual meetings.

The tech companies started the battle a few years ago as they began advertising things like Cisco Telepresence and Webex on-line collaboration tools. The travel industry didn’t at first appreciate the attack on their business. Then, though, the Big Recession set in, and company execs around the world issued edicts to limit travel spending. Managers found they could hold meetings virtually, achieve cost savings, save time – and, as an added bonus, not miss their son’s little league games. Travel spending plummeted…. as did travel-industry revenue.

Hotel chains and airlines learned that virtual meetings posed more than an idle threat, and they are now counter-attacking, spending heavily on advertising the business benefits of business travel. They’re citing research about how important face-to-face contact is. Hyatt ads proclaim, “Great happens when people get together.” American Airlines ads say, “Eye Contact. Your most underrated skill set.” and British Airways says: “Be there face to face.”

We’ll have to wait and see how this all plays out. Arguments from both sides are being made by well-funded voices, by some of the largest advertising budgets on the planet. Certainly, both positions – travel is bad, travel is good – have merits, and both virtual meetings and business travel are likely to be here to stay. The question is: to what extent will virtual meetings curtail business travel?



1. John Parsons, CFM - April 1, 2010

When the tech players can virtualize the camera so people can actually converse eye to eye, they might make a leap forward in the battle. Right now, you’re looking at someone who’s looking to the side at the display, Rather than the camera.

Some meetings this works ok. When I’m interviewing job candidates or have “sensitive” issues to communicate, you have to do that in person no matter what. (remember “Up In The Air”)

Also, you can’t take the department out for beers over a telepresence system. A virtual team needs to get together once in a while. For planning and team building, bare minimum.

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