Posts Tagged ‘ Business ’

My experience at Marriott – the seeds of my Virtual Travel conviction

The seeds of my conviction that virtual travel will become a reality within many of our lifetimes came from my time as Chief Technology Officer at Marriott International, Inc.

I feel it will start with business travel, simply because it will be easier to completely satisfy business travel requirements virtually. The reasons for business travel relate to lots of different roles, such as sales, marketing, training, collaboration, joint decision-making, knowledge transfer, and many others. Travel associated with these roles, unlike leisure travel, can be effectively performed if just 2 of the 5 senses are effectively stimulated by the virtual business meeting offering: sound and vision. If the virtual experience gets these 2 things right, with such fidelity that the participants in these meetings feel they have not compromised anything by avoiding physical travel, then it would make little sense for them to actually take the trip.

Technology that is frequently referenced as TelePresence (a term coined by Cisco Systems) is pretty much delivering this kind of experience today. Let’s call it virtual business collaboration technology. Multiple companies, including but not limited to Cisco and Hewlett Packard provide it. It is not some futuristic vision that has not yet been achieved. It is here now, and it is a stellar experience.

As CTO of Marriott, I felt that our company needed to embrace this technology, because it would eventually replace the need for in-person collaborative business meetings. Within the hotel industry, Marriott was on the cutting edge by creating a few public access virtual business meeting studios in selected hotels over five years ago, and have increased the number since.

In recent years, the technology has also penetrated more densely into public access building, such as hotels and airports. Concurrently, businesses have been installing virtual business collaboration technology and using to dramatically curtail physical travel. These companies and their employees are getting used to it, and they like it.

Because of their investment in this technology, they will continue to use it even as the economy recovers. So, it is unlikely that small, interactive business meetings in hotels and conference centers will come back to levels the travel industry enjoyed before the downturn. These companies will have to adjust. And when virtual leisure travel hits within the next 20-30 years, small adjustments to the travel industry business model will no longer be a survival option.

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Be there. Without actually being there.

Virtual travel is actually having the experience of traveling to a destination (whether near or far) without physically traveling.  In other words, you would experience the destination as if you were there, but without being there.

At the outset, I ask: If you could have a travel experience and couldn’t distinguish whether you were physically there or not, would you insist on physically being there?

I believe that we will have such a choice to make in less than 10 years for business travel and somewhere between 20 and 30 years for a full-fledged leisure travel experience.

When I chat with people about this, they say, “Of course, I would still want to go.” When I ask why, they say, “Well, I want to really experience the place, the people, the sights, the sounds.” They say they really want to “be there.” They also say it wouldn’t be the same if they were not physically at the destination.

But if I persist, and repeat: What if you could really experience it, complete with sights, smells, touch, interaction with people and places? I don’t mean experience it like watching a movie or a television program.  I mean experience it as if you were really there—in the movie—where your five senses actually tell you that you are there?

Let’s just assume that such a realistic experience will be possible and affordable at some point.  Given that, I wonder about the potential impact this capability will have on how we all live and work.

This impact on the physical world, including businesses and individuals, are the primary focus of my book Virtual Travel: Embrace or Expire.  The physical world, both natural and as constructed and maintained by humans, will be fundamentally changed when people no longer have to physically travel to have a real travel experience, either to accomplish work or to “get away from it all” for leisure.

When this happens, I believe large chunks of today’s physical world and its products and services will be bypassed.  When they are, if the businesses that deliver these products and services do not adapt, they will wither and die.  At the same time, incredible opportunities await existing businesses, industries, and individuals that adapt and grow as these radical changes occur.

What do you think will happen?  I would love to hear from you!