Videoconferencing and telepresence vendors have traditionally marketed their products as a replacement for travel. This is shortsighted in that real value creation comes from integrating real-time video into business processes. Using telepresence so that people can come together spontaneously and design an airplane or develop animation or create a 24-hour healthcare delivery service produces far greater value than travel savings.
Considering the obsession with marketing real-time video as a travel replacement, you might think hotels would be lukewarm about videoconferencing and telepresence. But there was nothing tepid about Mary Casey and Bob Hermany’s view of Cisco TelePresence as they announced on Tuesday Starwood’s roll out of public TelePresence rooms. The first two Starwood properties to offer TelePresence are the Sheraton on the Park in Sydney, Australia and the W Chicago. You can view the announcement video here. Incidentally, Mary is Starwood’s vice president of global corporate sales and Bob is Starwood’s senior vice president of operations.
Starwood will also install Cisco TelePresence at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers, the Westin Los Angeles Airport and the Sheraton Centre Toronto during 2010. Later, the hotel chain will adopt TelePresence at properties in San Francisco, Dallas, Brussels and Frankfurt, among others. In my October 15, 2008 post, I wrote that Cisco and its partner, Tata Communications, were introducing public TelePresence rooms and that the first hotel chain to participate was the Taj Hotels.
During a TelePresence call linking several global locations, Sean Hunt, a Starwood executive who manages the Sheraton on the Park in Sydney positioned Australia’s first public TelePresence room as both a travel benefit and alternative. “The problem is we’re isolated from the rest of the world, so this is a great alternative to long-haul travel.” The point is that rather than replace travel, TelePresence lets somebody outside Australia who may never have taken the flight get face-to-face with colleagues and partners.
Aside from marketing and public relations advantages, there are potentially tangible benefits for hotels that adopt TelePresence. Besides renting rooms at rates that can approach $500 a day, hotels can charge $500 an hour for TelePresence. That’s the rate at the Sheraton on the Park in Sydney. Australian dollars, of course.