Monday, January 3, 2011

Virtual Meetings – Virtually Fabulous, or, a Virtual Flash in the Pan?

I know that I could very well end up being known in the same manner as those people who said that talking movies were just a fad, but I just don’t see virtual meetings taking hold to an extent that gives Hotels any cause for concern.

I love technology and I do think a great deal of this particular technology, but I just don’t see businesses running out to rent these technology suites to use instead of travelling to the location of their other offices, and it’s expensive, from the quotes that I have seen from Hotels that have invested in the technology.

I have a bias as well, just to be up front about it, in the interest of full disclosure.

During a time when I was functioning as an Asset Manager for a company that owned a number of Hotels, some branded and some not, we were approached by one of the major brands that we worked with to put in a technology suite, which we could in turn rent out to clients who wanted to defer the cost of travel in favour of a virtual meeting with their counter-parts in other parts of the world.

According to the brand, our city was identified as one of the major cities where this need was identified as being significant in the coming years and we were being given the opportunity to jump on the band wagon to capture on this market when it takes hold.

Problem is, the technology required is VERY expensive, and, even if you use the suggested rental prices that the brand felt were appropriate, (which I could not imagine anyone paying), the ROI on this investment just isn’t there – not in my opinion anyway.

In case you haven’t already guessed, we did not invest in the technology suite.  I told the owner I thought that the brand was being irresponsible with his money by proposing this investment, and that it was my strong recommendation that he not authorize this expenditure, at that time.  He agreed.

I can see this technology being tremendously successful with companies who have multiple offices in multiple locations around the world, but I would see those same companies investing in the technology themselves, to have in their own offices, so they could meet whenever they please, and with little or no notice required, potentially saving them a great deal of money on travel, and giving them a respectable ROI that would justify their investment.

That was another problem that I had with the brand proposal – they were suggesting that by investing in this technology in our Hotel, in our city, people would travel to our city and choose our Hotel so that they could use our technology for their virtual meeting.  In short, they were suggesting that business executives would still travel, albeit shorter distances, then have a virtual meeting, from our Hotel, with their company executives, at another of our brands’ Hotels, presumably which they too may have had to travel too.

I’m sorry, but I think that’s crazy.  The whole point of the virtual meeting is to avoid the cost of travel, not just reduce it a little bit.

And let’s not forget that the real cost of travel is not just the hard costs associated with air fare and Hotel costs and the like.  As big a consideration is the loss of productivity.  In spite of the improvements in technology, people are not as productive on the road as they are in their offices, it’s a fact.

Also, given the speed with which companies like Skype are improving their platforms, I suspect that it won’t be long before we can have a virtual meeting in any number of ways that may work for us, and at a significantly reduced cost that makes sense for the majority of us.

Lastly, and as important as anything that I’ve already said, is the argument for the benefit of travel as it relates to relationships.  Sure, you can have a good and productive meeting using virtual meeting technology, but it does nothing to maintain or enhance relationships, and as I have been guilty of saying repeatedly, I believe that the hospitality business is all about relationships.

If you agree with that assessment, then you would also agree that there will always be a need, and a benefit, to travel in our industry.  In a business that is all about people, it will always be important to meet, face to face, with the people in our business. 

Need an experienced hospitality professional to help your property reach its full potential?  Contact me.

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