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Polycom and Sabre bring video to GDS

November 20, 2011

(Published in TTG 10.11.2011)

Polycom and Sabre bring video to GDS

Following a deal with video-conferencing provider Polycom, Sabre is claiming a first with its new Virtual Meetings system, which could prove lucrative to business travel agents.

When you’re asked to book business travel next year, you may notice a new option flashing up on your screen: video conferencing.

Following a new deal between Sabre and video-conferencing provider Polycom, Sabre Virtual Meetings will be available to all agents using the GDS– and at the same time create a new revenue stream.

As UK businesses look to cut costs, video conferencing is becoming a popular option, and by plugging into Polycom’s network of rooms, which offer high-definition technology, it doesn’t have to mean poor quality audio or web cam streaming.

“Since 2008, we’ve all been using webcasts and phone calls for meetings,” says Suzanne Neufang, general manager of Corporate booking tool provider GetThere and vice-president of Sabre SaaS (software as a service), “but the chance to get back to face-to-face is great.”

The Sabre system allows agents to view global conference room availability in real time, review rates, and book rooms as easy as other travel options.

Sabre claims booking video conferencing is as easy as booking a flight – but with the advantage that lower costs will be favourably looked upon, and may form a key part of corporate travel policies in the future.

Polycom has access to public rooms (such as hotels) and corporate-owned rooms (such as Regus offices) across the UK, that offer high-definition facilities. It also offers the option to use an iPad or Anroid-based tablet, using its RealPresence platform.

“For agencies, it creates an opportunity. It’s about changing from being travel agencies to being travel collaboration agencies,” Neufang explains. “When a corporate client calls you, and says ‘I need to be in Santiago next week, what are my options?’, you can list which flights they can catch, and the costs, as well as offering, for example, the chance to video-conference for two hours instead.”

The system equally applies to domestic travel, as an agent could save a busy executive the time on the train by suggesting an hour or two in a local video-conference room, for example between Manchester and London.

As for take-up in the UK, Neufang believes it will be agents that drive this: “The agent is still very much the person to get a corporate client where they need to be, but now they virtually get them where they need to be.”

Julie Oliver, managing director at Business Travel Direct, agrees.

“We now need, as TMCs, to be part of the ‘trip avoidance’ conversation,” she says.

“People want us to help manage their spend, and sometimes it’s about not travelling.

“It’s great the GDSs have jumped onboard. I’m keen to see how it works, and if it could become part of our workflow. Depending o the prices, it could add another sting to our bow.”

Exact locations are still to be confirmed, Neufang told TTG. “For this system to be effective, we need to have an inventory of rooms. We’re working on this now, and expect an announcement soon in the UK.”

And while the new system will create a new revenue stream, Neufang also admits Sabre was still working on the prices, and “was not ready to publically disclose” anything just yet.

For Oliver, however, it’s not so much about the cost: “TMCs are no longer just about booking a hotel or flight, it’s about having that meeting. It’s important to be part of the conversation”

The reservation system is due to launch in the first half of 2012.

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