Not all business travel is essential. That’s why some companies are eschewing air travel for video-conferencing and online communication. The fuel crunch has inflicted a serious wound on the air travel industry, with American Airlines as the biggest casualty – it announced two weeks ago that it would slash 7,000 jobs by the year’s end.
Everyone feels the effects of such “restructuring” efforts – fewer employees mean fewer flights, and fewer flights plus growing demand equal higher ticket prices and a more miserable flying experience.
That’s not even mentioning fuel prices, or bag-check surcharges, or the crying baby in the seat behind you, or your 747-sized two-seat-occupying neighbor.
With all these factors, it’s no surprise that the latest press release from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics suggests that people are opting to not fly as ticket prices reflect the exponential rise in fuel costs. Passenger numbers for March 2008 were down from March ‘07, when a barrel of crude oil cost was less than half of today’s price, at roughly $65/barrel.
Sure it’s sometimes required, like for contract-signing, family events or ribbon-cutting ceremonies. But this BTS data raises a question that is becoming increasingly relevant: is it really essential to fly, given the current costs?
To many businesses, the answer is no. Companies like Polycom (NASDAQ: PLCM), Hewlett Packard (NYSE: HPQ), and Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) create teleconferencing technology that fills the gap left from the abandonment of air travel. Teleconferencing allows for companies to connect with clients in a way that, although still short of actually being there, still far surpasses email or phone communication.
Now, the phrase “a fraction of the cost” gets thrown around a lot. But the newest high-tech video conferencing technology absolutely fits the bill. Companies not only save thousands of dollars in travel costs, but they promote the kind of business-greening that appeals to just about everyone these days.
The range of different organizations employing new video conferencing tech is expansive. Casting agencies in New York use it for auditions so that actors from Los Angeles can try out for that career-making role. Georgetown University uses video conferencing for a weekly military history seminar to include graduate students in Georgetown’s satellite in Qatar. A non-profit called Medical Missions for Children uses video conferencing to link physicians in third-world hospitals with the most knowledgeable doctors in the United States to help diagnose and treat children with severe medical conditions.
The list goes on. Everyone is looking to cut costs today. There are still unanswered questions, such as what the true value of face-to-face interaction is. Even so, companies should seriously examine video conferencing as not only as an alternative to travel but as a means to make their business that much greener.