To more planes, trains and automobiles. When a big meeting is scheduled, rather than file into a conference room, you may be more likely to see attendees duck into an office, boot up their computers and log onto the Internet.

Indeed, in a high-speed world, the Internet is connecting the aquatics industry more efficiently than the travel industry, thanks to the introduction of Web-based seminars, also dubbed ?Webinars.?

?Webinars are an effective way to reach a large audience,? said Pam King, spokesperson for the American Red Cross, which offers Webinars on a variety of subjects, including a partnership with Aquatics International on its new lifeguarding program.

More and more people are hopping online to experience the virtual classroom and conference centers.

For attendees, it?s an alternative to booking flights and hotels that saves time, money and effort, said Tom Lilly, vice president of sales at Rain Drop Products, LLC, in Ashland, Ohio. His company just launched live Web classes for contractors, architects and operators of interactive spray features. Rather than jetting all over the country training clients, ?[Webinars] allow on-demand training with groups that you couldn?t do otherwise,? he added.

The program benefits all parties: It helps companies and organizations reach out to customers and improve service, and vice versa. In addition, the Webinars are broadening people?s knowledge base. ?The information can be downloaded and shared with others,? King said. ?This makes the Webinar useful as a reference source and an additional training tool for users.?

Pool chemical manufacturer BioGuard operates ?Dealer Village,? a virtual networking venue for its dealers and staff. The dealers can talk to each other via video conferencing, which puts a personal spin on the meeting, said Carl Dunn, program manager and mayor of the BioGuard Dealer Village in Lawrenceville, Ga. ?What we?re trying to do is get them off the phone and onto the Village totally so they instant-message each other and share applications through the system,? he said.

Webinars also connect employees within a company. Pool Corp in Covington, La., offers ?Poolinars? to link and train its employees at branches around the country. Its live Webinars cover several customer service topics, including ?Working with Upset Customers? and ?Creating the Loyalty Response.? BioGuard?s ?Village School? also trains new employees for the job through e-learning courses and quizzes.

Webinars create value, too. ?When you bring the value of education [to people] more conveniently, they respond to that more positively and bring more security to the foundation or provider of that information,? said Tom Lachocki, CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation in Colorado Springs, Colo.

NSPF hosts eProAcademy, which offers courses in chemical safety, workplace management, and portions of its Certified Pool Operator online. Its seminars from the World Aquatic Health Conference also can be viewed online for those who couldn?t be there in person.

Of course, the Web is no substitute for an in-person meeting. ?There?s still nothing more powerful than having a conversation with partners and customers,? Lachocki says. For that reason, many companies and groups are trying to establish a blended educational format. Part of the course would be taught online, and the other part would require an on-site, hands-on training.

While Webinars will may never replace face-to-face meetings, they could create a great complement to them, industry members agreed. ?The conferences will always have their training curriculum. I don?t see [Webinars] being any challenge to that,? Lilly said. ?But setting up individual trainings will diminish when people see they can do just as well online.?