Monday, August 17, 2009

Maybe Technology Can Increase Conventions & Meetings

Domestic person-trips for Business/Convention/Seminar/Meeting Travel has fallen another 23% this decade. Conventions and meetings represent nearly 6 of every 10 business travel person-trips. Communities along with the facilities over-reliant on this segment of travel seem to fall into two groups, the largest of which is denial or those making fundamental changes in business models.

Some component of face to face business trips and conventions and meetings will continue to exist but in different proportions and it will be a paradigm shift. Just think of what email has done to traditional mail. (I love the term snail-mail but I can also see how it can be taken as a pejorative.)

According to a news report by David Wilkening at least two major lodging chains, Marriott and Starwood are moving to capitalize on one of the technologies replacing business/convention travel.

They are betting that while long haul business trips and larger conventions and meetings will decline, they may initially be replaced by smaller gatherings closer to home but still requiring a trip and overnight that are then linked with similar gatherings in other locations across state or in other parts of the nation or world.

Marriott has inked a deal with AT&T to install the Cisco Telepresence system in 25 hotels in places like San Francisco, New York, Shanghai, etc., operational in late October.

Starwood is doing the same with Tata Communications out of Singapore. Users will commute or travel to a nearby hotel, instead of across countries and continents and use a room with big hi-def screens around a table that gives the illusion of people from different locations being in the same room.

The limit currently will be 20 people but a full fifth of business meetings fall in this size range so you can see how it could expand in the future to convention-size groups. Surveys show over 3 in 10 corporate travel planners think that technologies like these may actually increase attendance for some meetings, but the travel distances will be shorter and the size of each group smaller.

For airlines the hauls will be shorter. For hotels with meeting facilities, it will mean much more technology and many smaller meeting rooms vs. large meeting room. For convention centers? Well we’ve already heard; we’ve seen the end of the mega-centers of 500,000 + but regardless of size they will need more and smaller rooms.

Cisco already has technology that can holograph people to a conference and another company has devised ways for holograms you can touch and feel. Right now it is the feel of wind or rain drops but shaking hands isn’t far behind.

As Mr. Dylan sings, “I feel a change coming on – and the fourth part of the day is already gone!”

Kudos to Marriott and Starwood.

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