Manhattan Hotel Unveils High-Tech Videoconferencing Facility Designed to Help Reduce Travel and Training Costs

By Lisa Fickenscher

Feb. 24, 2010

As business travel continues its long slump, Marriott International is ramping up a new high-tech videoconferencing service for sidelined road warriors.

The New York Marriott East Side is one of three Marriott properties to initially offer the service called Go There Virtual Meetings. The underlying technology is provided by AT&T and Cisco TelePresence.

A presentation of the service Wednesday, January 27, at the Lexington Avenue property connected hotel executives in Manhattan with colleagues at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and the Grosvenor House, a JW Marriott property in London. Those three properties are the first of 25 Marriott hotels to offer Go There Virtual Meetings. The demonstration also included Cisco executives in Santa Clara, California.

“It is a new revenue stream for us,” said David Marriott, COO of the hotel company’s Eastern region. “Many of our corporate clients have this technology at their headquarters.”

Marriott said he is not worried about cannibalizing his hotel room business because executives who participate in videoconferences or webinars were not coming to the hotel in the first place—not to mention that the fee for the service could exceed the cost of a room in some markets.

It costs $500 per hour to book a Marriott conference room equipped with the technology. And Marriott is sharing the expense of setting up the program with AT&T and Cisco. David Marriott said it is a $75,000 investment to build out a Go There Virtual room in a hotel.

In each of the rooms there are six chairs arranged around a curved conference table facing several large flat-screen panels. The executives who appear on the panels are sitting at an identical table, so that it looks as if they are seated at a large round table. The cameras are voice activated and follow whoever is speaking, allowing people to make eye contact.

Marriott said he expects people who book these rooms to spend money at the hotel on food and beverages.

“We see this as another reason to get people into our hotels, and once they are here, they’ll spend money at the property,” he said.

Cisco TelePresence and AT&T developed their product about three years ago and offer it around the world in about 700 locations at mostly large-company headquarters.

But Marriott International is the first hotel company to make such a significant investment in rolling out the service internationally, said Bill Archer, AT&T executive vice president of global strategy and transformation.

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