A combination of a difficult economy, growing health concerns over SARS, and a high comfort level with the Internet has resulted in a significant change in the way in which businesses conduct meetings that will likely continue into the future, no matter how much the economy might improve.
Those business people who must travel regularly now use the Internet to shop for the lowest airfares and hotel expenses. But beyond providing a marketplace for bargain shopping, the Internet has provided companies with the breakthrough ability to conference online with webcasting and web conferencing.
Virtual conference rooms mean people from all over the world can meet with little notice and no travel expense. WebEx, Net Messenger, and similar conferencing services have replaced the need for people to be in the same room. Shorter, more efficient meetings can occur without the need to schedule travel arrangements and incur the additional expense of travel.
In a recent USA Today article, Big Four firm PricewaterhouseCoopers reported that travel spending has not increased over last year, but videoconferencing has increased 5%-10% in a year. A Wilson Sporting Goods executive provided additional information about the value of Web conferencing. "I was able to sign up for the first three months of WebEx for 10 people for the same cost as sending two people to China for one trip," said Wilson's Karen Walerow.
An August, 2002 study of the U.S. Airline industry by the Business Travel Coalition, Inc. predicts that a portion of business travel that has left the major airlines will not return for at least several years. Corporate cutbacks have resulted in fewer business people being dispatched to meetings, fear of flying has reduced the number of people willing to fly, and some companies have reverted to company-owned jets and automobile travel in lieu of flying the major airlines.