Virtual vs actual travel. Out of touch with reality?

ON24 a provider of cloud-based webcasting and virtual communications solutions recently conducted a survey of of delegates to its annual VUE2011 virtual events conference about the state of business travel and came up with a litany of complaints against virtually all purveyors in the field from airports and airlines to hotels. Worst hit was Houston mostly because of its hot and sticky weather but at second from the bottom was Los Angeles due to its traffic snarls and the airport besides other factors.

Executives at ON24 siezed on the results of their survey to tout their wares. The company's Chief Marketing Officer declaimed that "these results demonstrate that virtual communication is more 'in sync' than physical events with how people today prefer to work." Elided from the announcement was the fact that the nearly 4000 participants were a self-selected and, one might add, biased group given the focus of the conference: "webcasting and virtual environments for corporate communications and demand generation". In other words, the respondents were gun shy when it came to travel for a variety of reasons ranging from pecuniary to corporate restrictions and perhaps also included some weary road warriors.

The reasons for shunning business travel were varied and included legitimate beefs like "winding up with the middle seat on a plane, to security lines, to traveling next to a sick person." Other somewhat dodgy  grouses were "annoying children, arm rest hogs, snorers and overly amorous couples (who) were also called out for their irritating behavior."

Hotels were hammered for a "round of concerns" that oddly, given the fact that the over-wrought epidemic has largely been contained, "potential" bed bugs, noisy guests and one seldom, if ever, heard in real hotels: dirty linens.  ON24 went on to exhort all executives to "avoid the hassles of traveling altogether and instead opt for virtual events and meetings that allow everyone to stay put."

The pitch for greater use of virtual tools is only fair given ON24's focus on "live virtual events" as well as perhaps a real need on the part of many of its clients. Less fathomable is a need to drum up business by unfarily and somewhat disingenuosly hammering the travel industry given the fact that the firm's growth is not predicated on a zero-sum game.

Much like the initial purveyors of video-conference technology who loftily predicted the demise of business travel only to find that businsess embraced both, webcasting and virtual conferences can work more by supplementing  rather than supplanting business travel. Business relationships separated by locales are enhanced, sometimes considerably, by virtual technology.  As in similarly situated personal relationships, they are likely to do better when in touch, physically.




Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.