War, disease drive up conferencing

Anecdotal evidence shows that multinational companies are turning more frequently to phone and video conferencing in light of the war in Iraq and the flulike disease in Asia.

2 min read
Nokia, Sun Microsystems, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and IBM are among the tech companies that have called off regional conferences in Asia and banned their executives from unnecessary travel there.

In place of physical meetings, such multinational companies increasingly are turning to phone and video conferencing.

"Ad-hoc requests for our audio conference services have gone up by 20 percent compared to the average before the Iraq war and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) crisis," said Adrienne Tho, a spokeswoman from Singapore Telecommunications, the republic's largest telecom provider.

"There has also been a 50 percent increase in the usage of our two Singapore video conference studio facilities," she said.

Rival telecom StarHub is seeing a similar boom. "There was a 50 percent increase in subscription and usage of our audio conferencing services in March," said StarHub spokeswoman Cassie Fong.

Both companies also noted an increase in SMS (Short Message Service) traffic following the outbreak of the war in Iraq and the flulike disease in Asia.

These trends hardly come of any surprise with Asian air travel sorely affected by travel advisories issued by Western governments and the fear sweeping the region.

Such worries have in turn have triggered a downturn in various sectors in Singapore, with tourism-related industries being the hardest hit. According to latest figures released by the Singapore Tourism Board, tourist arrivals fell 14.8 percent in March compared with the same period last year.

The situation is set to get worse as regional trade shows and conferences geared for Singapore continue to get scrapped or relocated.

Information Security World Asia 2003, a regional gathering of security players showcasing wares, was set to take place in the island-state later this month, but the event will be postponed indefinitely.

Two other tech shows scheduled alongside the event--CardsAsia 2003 and Disaster Recovery 2003--have also been canceled.

Meanwhile, the fate remains undecided for CommunicAsia 2003, one of Singapore's largest IT trade shows. Singapore Exhibition Services, the organizer of this multimillion-dollar trade show set for June, said it will monitor SARS developments closely before making a call.