CBS News travel editor Paul Greenberg told ILCT attendees that chauffeured transportation operators are in a unique position to provide desirable travel alternatives to planes, cabs and buses.
LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- When noted travel expert Peter Greenberg gave his keynote speech at the 2013 ILCT Show, he brought with him a message of mild optimism. While it was far from a sunny forecast, he encouraged attendees to see the silver linings of opportunity.
Greenberg, who is the travel editor for CBS News, said the recently announced merger of US Airways and American Airlines means that overall capacity for airlines in the U.S. will shrink further. As a result, air travel prices will keeping rising, and unfortunately departures will decline. Some cities will even lose air service part or in full.
The silver lining is that people still need to travel — bus travel is up, in fact — and if the limousine industry plays its cards right, it can help fill those holes in short-haul travel in style and in comfort. “You get to be the enablers now,” said Greenberg, with a built-in audience of angry, frustrated people who are desperate for travel solutions.
“If your fees for your limousines are less than the airfares, which is not difficult to be right now, you just win. You just have to get that out there.” For example, air travel from New York to Washington D.C. could be replaced by chauffeured transportation for a lower cost, less time, and a much-improved experience.
Foreign Business Travel Picking Up
From an immigration perspective, the U.S. dried up in the years after 9/11, Greenberg said. Fewer business visas were issued and the waiting time to secure one was 160 days. Revenue from Russian, Korean, Chinese, Indian, and Brazilian travelers was only a trickle. Luckily, the detriment of these policies has sunk in and visa reform has put the new turnaround time for a business visa to two days. Soon the pent up demand to visit the U.S. will be unleashed. “Guess what everybody? They’re coming, and they have money, and they can’t wait to spend it, and they want to be driven.”
Greenberg advised that special attention should be paid to international air carriers. While U.S. carriers are cutting direct flights to nearly every city, foreign carriers, such as Korean Airlines, have nonstop flights almost everywhere. “You have a built-in audience that wants to come here and they want to be driven,” Greenberg said.
The Art of the Conversation Still Matters
During his presentation, Greenberg recalled a chance encounter he had with a cab driver. As he was racing to make a flight at JFK International Airport in New York, he got in the car and barked the exact route he wanted to take. The driver countered that he knew a faster route — and if not, the ride would be free. Greenberg, a native New Yorker, took him up on the offer and was proven wrong. Greenberg called the incident, “the beginning of a pretty good conversation.”
Impressed, Greenberg asked the driver if he wanted to drive him whenever he was in New York. The driver, named William, started driving his coworkers, and even drove Greenberg’s mother. Six years later, William’s family invited Greenberg to be a guest at his cousin’s wedding in Alexandria, Egypt. Eventually William started buying Lincoln Town Cars, and today his family runs a limousine business.
Greenberg made the point that this long relationship was all based on the original conversation William sparked. “Someone who’s driving a limousine who doesn’t engage in the art of conversation is a driver,” Greenberg said. A big problem in this country is that the art of the conversation is being forgotten, but the limousine industry is in the position to revive it, he said. In particular, Greenberg warned against letting technology interfere with the high-touch element operators should strive for. “We should never be seduced by technology at the expense of common sense or that conversation, ever.”
Whereas air travel has become a commodity, a way to get from A to B, the limousine industry has the opportunity to provide a unique experience to clients, Greenberg said. And because customers are getting beat down by air travel, limo services can make them feel human once again.
“By the time they see you, they’re refugees,” Greenberg said. If operators can creatively improve their services, be enablers, and start a conversation, Greenberg is confident the limousine business has plenty of room to grow.