CONFERENCE BY VIDEO CAN TAKE AIR OUT OF TRAVEL

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Instead of booking a flight to get to a meeting, Toyota Motor Corp. employees can schedule time on one of their two interactive networks and walk to the office studio.

A satellite network connects Toyota branches in 13 U.S. cities, while offices in three Japanese cities network with one another and the U.S. locations via upgraded telephone lines.

The 24-hour interactive networks, developed in August 1990 by Compression Labs, San Jose, Calif., allow Toyota employees to speak to as well as see participants on the other side.

"It's a great way to communicate-the picture is instantaneous and clear, and it saves a lot of lengthy travel as well as expense," said Gloria Jahn, national dealer and associate communications manager at Toyota Motor Sales USA.

Toyota buys time for the network on a monthly basis and uses it constantly for business ranging from sales meetings, promotional information sessions and advertising previews to logistical briefings and even job interviews.

However, several travel industry executives said they aren't worried about teleconferencing hurting their business.

"Videoconferencing was touted as the big technological thing eight years ago, but it has had no impact on the business," said Michael Ribero, senior VP-marketing and strategic planning at Hilton Hotels Corp. "There are certain things you can't do by phone or fax."

"We feel teleconferencing has a role. It's a pretty good way to communicate in a company," said Ed Stahl, VP-director of advertising and marketing programs for ITT Sheraton Corp. "But to sell a product, it's a long way from replacing one-on-one interaction."

Other travel executives think the industry should take note of a real competitive threat.

"As teleconferencing becomes more feasible, they should worry," said John Boatright, senior VP at the Martin Agency, Richmond, Va., and vice chairman of the Association of Travel Marketing Executives. "The technology has always been there, but costs have come down ... I don't see any change in emphasis by companies to decrease costs. One way to do that is to decrease travel expenses."

Christy Fisher contributed to this story.

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