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Real Travel vs. Virtual Travel - Videoconferencing, Telepresence and the Airline Industry

May 1, 2012 | Hogan Keyser
airline_seat_video.jpgApril 29, 2012 by David Danto via -- About a year ago a reporter that covers travel firms asked me if the emerging telepresence market was taking business away from the struggling air travel industry.  I answered, "No, the airline companies are taking business away from the air travel industry.  Telepresence is just what some people are using instead of having to deal with the hassles. "

Throughout the history of the videoconferencing industry people have always led ROI conversations with cost avoidance around air travel.  The marketing always sounded something like, "install [insert the video systems du-jour] and your travel costs will go way down.  It'll pay for itself in no-time and then you'll rack-up the annual savings."  While I believe that there is some truth to the correlation that collaboration technologies help reduce travel costs it's not quite as cut-and-dry as the marketing pitch.  But more than that, focusing on travel cost reduction entirely misses the point that properly selected collaboration tools can transform an organization in ways that are exponentially more valuable.

That's a lot to take in.  Let me back-up a bit and explain. Let's say an organization wants to cut travel spend by 50% annually.  Usually someone in their executive leadership will just cut the budget allocated to travel.  It might take the form of a crackdown on expenses or a freeze on travel, but whatever the method, simply saying no is usually a very effective cost reduction technique.  Now if I toss a few video systems at that organization - or some phones - or even some tin cans connected with strings - at the end of the year you can produce metrics that show how the tin cans led to a 50% travel reduction.  Are the metrics true?  That depends on your perspective.  People will certainly use tools to substitute for the loss of travel, but the tools didn't cause the reduction.

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