Sabre corporate booking tool GetThere will offer video-conference and telepresence facilities as alternatives to travel by the end of this year, in a move the company believes will mark a “sea change” for the sector.
GetThere head of business development for Europe and the Middle East Guy Snelgar said: “We are working on a global distribution system for virtual meetings that we will deliver to a desktop. We will launch the first phase of the GDS at the end of 2011.”
Snelgar told Travolution: “We make money out of travel, so it might seem counter-intuitive. But we may move away from being just a travel provider.”
The system might ask a client considering travel between London and Singapore, for example, whether the journey is for a customer meeting, a conference or an internal meeting.
Depending on the traveller’s company policy, flying for an internal meeting might require a higher level of approval or might even be vetoed and the system provide options for a virtual meeting.
At least one major US client of Sabre is already using a prototype. “The company has found it does not necessarily reduce travel spending,” said Snelgar. “Instead, the budget is used to visit customers and alternatives used for internal meetings.”
He insisted: “This won’t replace travel, but complement it. For some companies, it will be about having more meetings.” Snelgar said the pressure for such a system was coming from corporate clients, adding: “A lot of global companies invested in high-end telepresence systems when corporate travel went through a slump [in early 2009].”
He said: “In essence, we are building a GDS for videoconferencing. The system will offer video and teleconferencing, and meeting rooms. It will even pick up internal company meeting rooms booked through Outlook.”
The system is due to launch as a pilot with two of Sabre’s global customers shortly. Snelgar said: “This represents a sea change – one of the biggest for a long time. As far as I’m aware we are the only GDS doing this.”