Marriott opens TelePresence meeting rooms for rent by the hour

Cisco’s TelePresence system is a life-like high-definition conferencing facility that allows participants to meet eachother across a virtual table. To enhance the feeling of being in the same room, participants’ eyes are at the same level and the walls are often painted the same color. Cisco claims that its TelePresence system comes closer to the face-to-face experience that other solutions have been lacking sofar. Until recently, a private Cisco TelePresence system was only available to businesses at prices ranging from USD 34,000 for a simple set to USD 300,000 for a full-blown system capable of hosting 18 persons. 

Cisco says that currenty more than 3,500 TelePresence systems have been installed worldwide by more than 500 companies, and by introducing public TelePresence rooms for rent, Cisco aims to broaden the use of its technology. Since 2008, Tata Communications has operated such public rooms in London and Boston as well as at 5 locations in India in partnership with Taj Hotels and the Confederation of Indian Industry.

Availability of public Cisco TelePresence meeting rooms is expected to grow exponentially in 2010. U.S hotel chain Marriott has just opened the first two of 25 planned Telepresence meeting rooms around the world in New York and Bethesda (near Washington DC). The 6-person video-conferencing suites, labeled Marrriot ‘Go There Virtual Meetings’, can be booked at a rate of USD500 (or the local equivalent) an hour. Bookings must be for at least one hour, with incremental half-hours available after that. Starwood, meanwhile, will open Cisco TelePresence rooms at 10 of its hotels around the world. 

Although telepresence technology often is viewed as a way to cut down on travel necessary for meetings, both Starwood and Marriott say they expect the service ultimately will provide a boost to their meetings business. “There’s an opportunity for us not just to host a meeting but also to host room nights for people traveling to [our TelePresence] hubs” said Starwood. Furthermore, analysts say the business model for public rooms is converging with tight travel budgets to create a more compelling reason for companies to give virtual meetings a try.

Large companies with private TelePresence systems are also increasingly incorporating them into their travel booking systems. Seizing on that trend, American Express’ ‘Virtual Meetings eXpert’ and Carlson Wagonlit’s ‘Telepresence’ offer companies advice on when a virtual meeting is suitable, as opposed to a face to face meeting, and alert travelers at the time of booking on available virtual meeting options. Says American Express: “Travel is about connecting people with each other, and traditionally that means putting people on planes, on trains and in automobiles, but the recession has changed that environment considerably.” 

Update 23 February 2009: Starwood Hotels has opened its first two TelePresence rooms in the W Chicago and Sheraton on the Park in Sydney. By the end of June, Starwood also plans to have virtual meeting rooms operational at Sheraton hotels in New York and Toronto.

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