Sabre Travel Network plans to work with Cisco to develop a telepresence distribution and reservations platform, enabling agencies and corporations to book services from any telepresence provider and any point of sale.

Telepresence goes beyond teleconferencing by using high-definition video and audio to create the illusion that meeting participants are sitting in the same room, even though they may be thousands of miles away in separate "telepresence suites."

"Travel managers have become collaboration managers," Greg Webb, president of Sabre Travel Network, said.

He said Sabre plans to make the platform available to all suppliers and all sellers. "It's not specific to Sabre users," he said. Sabre will contribute its expertise in reservations and distribution, while Cisco brings its experience with telepresence technology to the partnership.

Users of the distribution platform will be able to view room availability in real time, book meetings and review applicable rates and restrictions. Public telepresence providers and private corporations will have the ability to provide open or restricted access to their rooms through the platform.

For example, public telepresence suite providers could provide open access to view and reserve their rooms, while corporations with private rooms could restrict viewership to their employees and selected business partners.

Chris Kroeger, senior vice president of Sabre Travel Network, noted that although travel remains the principal method of collaboration, corporations have been "tightening their belts in a variety of ways" since the economic downturn. New methods of collaboration have grown in popularity.

Suzanne Neufang, general manager of GetThere, said users of Sabre Red, the new travel agent desktop, will be able to view comparisons of collaboration options. They will see, for example, the total air fare for meeting participants compared with the costs of renting telepresence suites. The comparisons will provide "visual guilt" to keep costs down, she said.

Webb said the business model is likely to be "mixed" in terms of who pays for transactions. "The economic model will evolve, and internal system use will have a different model than public use," he said.