News

Marriott unveils video-conferencing suites

28 Jan 2010 by Sara Turner

US hotel chain Marriott has opened the first of its Telepresence video-conference meeting rooms in New York and Bethesda, near Washington DC.

The Cisco-designed technology, which provides high-definition screens with cameras offering near-perfect eye contact and directional sound, will be rolled out across 25 hotels around the world in the initial phase.

The first “Go There Virtual Meetings” studios have opened in the New York Marriott East Side and the Bethesda North Marriott. The JW Marriott Hong Kong, Renaissance Sao Paulo, JW Marriott Marquis, Renaissance Washington DC, Atlanta Airport Marriott Gateway, and Dallas/Fort Worth Airport Marriott will follow suit in the next couple of months.

In the UK, the Grosvenor House, a JW Marriott hotel on London’s Park Lane, will open its first Cisco Telepresence room in April or May. Anthony Stewart-Moore, general manager of the hotel, said: “It will be good for our customers. We have hosted a lot of global-partner type meetings, whether they be for legal, accounting or consulting firms, and quite often they bring in their own temporary infrastructure to do these ‘satellite conference calls’. They spend tens of thousands of pounds putting that infrastructure in place, but now we are going to have it there ready and convenient for them.

“What’s exciting is that when we do awards-type events and a recipient can’t be in attendance, we will be able to stream a Telepresence call into our Great room, so 2,000 people can watch what’s going on here, right now.” He added: “We are also in the heart of Mayfair, in the middle of the diplomatic area of London, so I think we will see a lot of late-night meetings between diplomats.”

The high-tech video-conferencing suites, which cost about US$75,000 to install, are available to book through gotherevirtualmeetings.com at a rate of US$500 (or the local equivalent) for one hour. Bookings must be for at least one hour, with incremental half-hours available after that.

The rooms seat six people at a semi-circular desk with three screens displaying live feeds from the remote participants. Cisco also offers a larger version of the suite for up to 18 people. Delegates can connect with as many locations as they like, as voice-activating audio means that as soon as someone who is not already visible starts to speak, they will appear on one of the screens.

Mark Weidick, Cisco’s vice-president and general manager of the Telepresence business unit, said: “In terms of capacity, we have used it with up to 64 locations at one time. That’s not to say there aren’t limits to the technology, but we haven’t met them yet.”

Kathleen Matthews, executive vice-president of corporate communications at Marriott, said: “The experience is so seamless – the way the camera follows you, the way you can physically take a piece of paper and show it to someone [in another location] by placing it under the remote camera – I think the longer you are in the experience the more you forget that you are not all in the same room.”

Business Traveller tried out the technology at the launch yesterday (January 28) in Cisco’s London office, and experienced close to no time lag in audio, with sound and images synchronising smoothly. And although it seemed a little disconcerting at first, with the help of a list of participants, logos for each of the companies taking part, and an event host to direct questions and maintain a focus, it soon became apparent how to behave, where to look and how to take part in the virtual meeting.

Click here to watch a film demonstrating Marriott’s Go There Virtual Meetings.

Visit marriott.com for more information.

Report by Jenny Southan

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