Today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has a report on a new technology called “Telepresence” that overcomes many of the technological limitations that have plagued and limited videoconferencing, an innovation of over a decade ago that was billed to be a threat to airline travel and stays in hotels. Telepresence is a high-definition videoconference system that simulates face-to-face meetings between users.
The Journal reports that “With prices of most systems ranging from $200,000 to $500,000 a room depending on the number of screens, telepresence has widely been considered a niche technology for multinational corporations. But high gas and travel prices, as well as improving video technology, are causing smaller firms to reconsider the high-end systems”. While the new system has barely a 1000 installations as compared to the exponentially greater numbers using traditional video conferencing. The report notes that “suppliers of the technology are trying to encourage the shift, which could expand their market beyond the multinational corporations they have courted in the past”. The difference between the two systems is explained in the article as “Traditional videoconferencing setups are essentially a monitor, camera and microphone, placed in a conventional conference room. Telepresence systems, by contrast, require specially designed rooms with multiple cameras, sound-damping equipment and high-definition video screens. They simulate the sensation of two groups of people at identical tables facing each other through windows”.
While the numbers for Telepresence are, as yet, minuscule it is unclear what its impact on business travel be on the long run. It probably is unlikely to cause a diminution of business travel and hospitality businesses that are able to incorporate them in their assets are likely to enhance their attractiveness to the corporate market. Ultimately, as the Economist notes in this article of a few years ago that “The inevitable conclusion: seeing other people in the flesh is a different, and sometimes better, way to make sure that news and views flow freely”. That dictum is just as valid in any other business.