Marriott International and Starwood Hotels and Resorts have announced plans to install "life-like" telepresence suites in hotels around the world by the end of the year.
The Cisco-designed teleconferencing suites will be installed in Marriott hotels in 25 cities including New York, Hong Kong, Frankfurt and London.
Starwood said it would feature the technology in ten hotels to begin with, including Sheraton hotels in New York, Sydney and Toronto. It also said it had earmarked key business cities such as Brussels, Paris, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Cisco's telepresence system uses large, high-definition video screens positioned around a table and real-time audio to give the illusion of being in the same room as the people you are talking to.
With teleconferencing increasingly seen as an environmentally sound alternative to travel, the move by Marriott and Starwood could result in less travel and therefore lower demand for rooms.
Arne Sorenson, Marriott's president and chief operating officer, was confident the suites would help drive hotel business. He said: "The need to hold small global meetings that cross continents and oceans will only grow. The addition of telepresence meeting suites in our hotels will give Marriott a leg up on its competition."
Marriott has partnered with US-based telecommunications company AT and T, while Starwood has gone with Tata Communications in Singapore.
Marriott expects the first suites to go live at the end of October. Starwood said its first ten telepresence rooms would open by the end of the year.
The UK's first high-definition video-conferencing facility for public use was launched by Taj Suites and Residences last year (see online news October 17). For an in-depth look at telepresence technology, see our feature in the May 2008 issue of Business Traveller. For more information visit cisco.com, tajhotels.com, tatacommunications.com/telepresence.
Report by Andrew Gough