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The cost of business travel has long been embedded within the corporate mentality as a necessary expense, but higher travel expenses and limited budgets are forcing many planners to tighten their purse strings, threatening the very existence of the frequent business traveller

Mar 1, 2007

by Ernest Granson

It’s 7:30 a.m. at the Vancouver International Airport and a staple scene plays out. The bleary-eyed business traveller wheels his luggage to his departure gate, grabs the morning paper and checks his BlackBerry.

His plane touches down in Calgary at 9:00 a.m., in time for a 10:00 a.m. meeting at Bankers Hall. Afternoon appointments with key clients are on schedule and things wrap up by 3:00 p.m., enough time for the road warrior to catch his 4:30 p.m. flight back to Vancouver.

In a recent survey conducted by Meeting­News Magazine, 75% of professional planners said they expect their meeting budgets to be affected by rising costs during 2007. Respondents to the FutureWatch 2007 survey, conducted by Meeting Professionals International, indicated that planners expect meeting costs to increase by 18% this year. As a result, many companies have placed tighter restrictions on their corporate travel plans to cope with the rising costs. Others have switched to more cost-saving alternatives, such as video conferencing and web conferencing, to conduct business from afar.

Video conferencing is one of the hottest business tools making it possible for small- and medium-sized companies to conduct business anywhere in Canada and globally. Demand for it has grown by 100% over the past two years, says Jeff Faber, president and CEO of Calgary-based Apex Audio Visual Systems Integration.

“Video conferencing not only reduces overall expenses but it allows the executive to remain at the desk and be more productive,” says Faber, who has worked for Apex for more than 20 years supplying audio-visual equipment and services to clients such as Nexen Inc., Telus Corp., Mount Royal College and SAIT.

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Video conferencing allows for communication through web-based video and audio to two or more people in different locations. Video can be streamed over the Internet or transmitted to a television. Which technology you use will depend on the importance of the meeting and the number of participants. Web-based meetings are better suited to staff meetings or a follow-up meeting with a client because of the lower video quality. For more important matters, an integrated audio-visual company can provide the necessary equipment, technology and service to broadcast the meeting on a TV.

While the initial expense of purchasing your own conference system can take a huge bite out of most budgets, the cost can be recouped in no time, notes Faber. “Let’s say you install a system costing between $5,000 to $8,000, if you consider a single flight for a meeting to a different location could cost $2,000, it doesn’t take long to realize the payback.”

There’s a wide variety of video conferencing systems available, ranging from budget (that is, desktop conferencing, which could be as inexpensive as $500) to the high-end, HDTV video conferencing equipment. If you don’t have a large budget, leasing or renting equipment is an option, but it may be more trouble than its worth. “Leasing or renting used to be more common when systems cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Ten years ago, a system could run as high $200,000 and might only be capable of communicating with the same kind of system. But today, the price tag for a system is in the thousands of dollars and those compatibility issues have been resolved,” says Faber.

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