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11 Aug, 2008

Telecoms Sector Offers Alternative to Travel

Advances in information and communications technologies (ICTs) which have facilitated the growth of global travel & tourism industry are set to play an increasing role in both reducing and managing the growth still to come.

Those same technologies that greatly assisted the development of reservation and payment systems that helped low cost airlines shake the dominance of the established airlines are now set to be used to alleviate global warming and the impact of travel on climate change.

The International Telecommunications Union Asia conference due to be held in Bangkok next month is to hold a number of sessions at which discussions will focus on ways to deploy ICTs to reduce travel, not grow it.

One of the many reports set to be presented the conference has a clear message for companies with high levels of travel for business and conferences: “Increase productivity, save time and money while reducing your carbon footprint.”

ICTs, the report says, can help create “a family of tools that promise to facilitate communication, collaboration and coordination — without the requirement of physical travel.”

Says the report, “Although ICTs account for only around 2.5 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, they have the potential to be used in reducing the other 97.5 per cent of emissions in other sectors. They can do this primarily by creating opportunities for the abatement (or displacement) of existing applications that generate carbon dioxide (CO2).

“Probably the most obvious area for carbon abatement opportunities offered by ICTs is in reducing, or substituting for, travel requirements. The ICT industry offers a number of different tools and services which can theoretically replace travel, especially business travel, which range from the mundane (for example, e-mail, phone calls, text messaging) to the sophisticated (high-performance videoconferencing).”

Says another report, “Globally 30% of business travel can be avoided through videoconferencing.”

The reports the growing use of ICTs for peer-to-peer meetings that allow an organizer and participants to communicate with the help of audio, video and text, and jointly edit documents.

The International Telecommunications Union itself is using this type of remote collaboration for some meetings of steering committees and study groups. At the same time, webinars (web seminars) are being often used for product presentations or the transmission of conferences and being made available online as webcast.

Citing its own example, the ITU said that most of its meetings take place in Geneva and involve member states, sector members and associates from 191 countries.

“This means many delegates must travel long distances to participate in meetings, even though they may sometimes only be interested in one brief part of a meeting. For example, nearly two-thirds of delegates travelled round trip more than 10,000 kms to participate in ITU–T meetings in 2007.

“Holding even a small number of those meetings online would have a significant impact on ITU’s carbon footprint, considering that air travel is the world’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, which cause climate change.

“Furthermore, ITU workshops and tutorials held online can address a wider audience, notably in reaching participants from developing countries, and non-members. For developing countries, remote collaboration tools can thus be seen as a helpful instrument in overcoming the digital divide.

“Specific types of remote collaboration tools have also allowed more ITU meetings to be held away from the headquarters in Geneva.”

The ITU reports cited at least three other ways by which ICTs will impact on travel & tourism, for better and worse:

<> Reducing CO2 emissions by use of intelligent transport systems which are used in applications such as “eco-driving”, congestion charging, as well as for traffic management and parking optimization.

<> “Dematerialisation”, or the replacement of “atoms” with “bits”, via the dispensation of press kits, brochures, pre-recorded movies and music away from physical distribution (such as DVDs and CDs) to online delivery.

The report says that alone would be a huge saving, assuming that by 2020, seven billion DVDs and 10 billion CDs could be sold globally per year, using one kilogram CO2e per CD/DVD.

<> The use of ICTs for disaster relief and for emergency services, such as in the event of tsunamis, earthquakes, flooding due to rising sea levels, or increased incidence of violent storms and hurricanes.

The report also notes how smart buildings will help, including hotels and airports.

For example, it says, “a closer look at buildings in North America indicates that better building design, management and automation could save 15% of North America’s buildings emissions. Globally, smart buildings technologies would enable 1.68 GtCO2e of emissions savings, worth Euro 216 billion ($340.8 billion).

Says the report, “The scale of emissions reductions that could be enabled by the smart integration of ICT into new ways of operating, living, working, learning and travelling makes the sector a key player in the fight against climate change, despite its own growing carbon footprint.

“No other sector can supply technology capabilities so integral to energy efficiency across such a range of other sectors or industries.”

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