The business trip: sleeping on hard hotel mattresses, cramming into coach class, attending endless presentations and lectures. As appealing as a root canal? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one who thinks so. Chances are your company is also rooting for you to stay in the office.

The ongoing battle with the balance sheet is making companies take a harder look at T&E expenses. According to the National Business Travel Association, corporate travel budgets have been cut 20 percent on average in the past year, and 75 percent of these companies have turned to conferencing to control costs and conduct business more efficiently.

Growing frustrations with business travel are prompting the surge in conferencing use. What are the hottest growth areas in the conferencing industry? How are businesses benefiting?

It Just Makes Cents
Technology exists to make our lives easier. If used right, it can save time, money, and ultimately some headaches. There’s no better example than in the business environment, where conferencing has quickly become ingrained into traditional ways of conducting business as companies recognize its many benefits.

Take the business meeting, for instance. Whether the meeting is in-person or on the phone, businesses not only incur "hard costs," like airline travel, food and lodging, but "soft costs," such as the salaries of meeting attendees. An MCI WorldCom Conferencing study profiled a typical meeting with five participants from five different locations. The total hard and soft costs differ significantly depending on meeting method. For example, if four of the participants travel by plane to attend, the cost of the meeting adds up to almost $5,200; if the group meets by videoconferencing, meeting costs drop to about $1,700. By contrast, the same meeting conducted by audioconference costs under $700.

Now consider this: The average "road warrior" takes nearly five plane trips each month. Think of how many minutes, hours and days are spent preparing for and traveling to these meetings. A recent study by International Data Corporation found that one in 10 business trips – or six trips a year – could be effectively replaced by Web-based conferencing. The time and cost savings from those six trips alone is significant. When applied to an entire company, the savings are astounding.

A Growing Trend
Clearly the infiltration of conferencing in the business arena is not a new trend, but it is a growing one. In 1998, conference calls in North America amounted to $2.6 billion, a growth of nearly 23 percent from the previous year, according to TeleSpan Publishing Corporation.

As one of the world’s fastest-growing providers of conferencing services, MCI WorldCom saw a dramatic growth in its conferencing services in 1999. Overall audio conferencing call volume grew 40 percent; videoconferencing grew 35 percent; and Net conferencing volume grew an astounding 216 percent.

To wit, more than a third of Internet-savvy professionals have participated in Internet conferencing, where presentations are viewed over the Web, according to a recent study by MCI WorldCom Conferencing. The same study indicates over 70 percent of professionals are likely to use Web conferencing in the next year.

Emerging Web-based solutions are having a profound impact on the long-term future of the conferencing market. According to a 1999 Frost & Sullivan study, Internet-based conferencing is significantly less expensive than traditional solutions, attracting the cost-conscious customers who before were hesitant to jump into the market.

As businesses embrace Internet-based meetings, products and services will continue to evolve. Look for live audio and video streaming of meetings, with opportunities for real-time interaction.

For more information on electronic meeting solutions for your company, visit MCI WorldCom's e-Meetings Web site.

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