by Michael Shapiro | November 7, 2011

On Nov. 3, Sabre Travel Network and Polycom announced their partnership in creating a global reservation system for videoconferencing. Through Sabre Virtual Meetings, as the system will be called, customers will be able to locate, reserve, and connect both public and corporate-owned high-definition videoconferencing and telepresence rooms. The product can be integrated with online booking tools or travel agency systems, allowing travel arrangers or travelers themselves to book such conferences in conjunction with or instead of a business trip.
Sabre is working closely with Polycom and its vast global network of videoconferencing sites to develop the platform, but Sabre Virtual Meetings won't be restricted to one supplier; it will be open to multiple telecom and videoconferencing technology providers. What's more, it is designed to be accessible through global distribution systems (not just Sabre), travel management companies, online booking tools and directly via the Internet.
I first heard about these plans at the Global Business Travel Association convention in August, during a session about what's working well in virtual meetings. The need for such a solution was raised, in fact, by a question from an audience member -- before Sabre's Jeremy Stubbs, who was presenting, even had a chance to hint this was coming. The question was, essentially, "Now that we've invested in these corporate videoconferencing solutions, how can we increase their use?" General consensus in the room was that access to booking and use of the videoconferencing sites was fairly limited, and many corporations hadn't been maximizing the technology's potential. The ability to link reservation capabilities to what employees were already using to book travel was sorely lacking. Even for intra-company systems, which needn't necessarily rely on public nor anyone else's videoconferencing sites, the infrastructure to check on room availability and reserve the space just wasn't there.
Sabre Virtual Meetings is designed to increase use of the corporate rooms -- and therefore a company's return on investment in the technology -- as well as use of public videoconferencing rooms that are being established at hotels and other sites around the globe. Companies that own their own rooms will be able to use the system to make the rooms available either on a strictly internal basis, to selected partners or to the general public. The platform is meant to be customizable according to customer needs.
The new tool could mean a significant boost to videoconferencing and telepresence use, as long as it's easy to use and actually works with all of the different technology and telecom vendors it aims to include. An effective and simple reservation platform, coupled with rising travel costs and continued economic uncertainty, could lead to small virtual meetings playing a far more important role at many companies. Sabre plans to roll out the virtual meetings system in the first half of 2012, through TMCs and directly with corporations.