UNCASVILLE, CT -- There's no getting around it, but this has been a rough year. Since the industry gathered at LCT East last September, the last 13 months have brought a financial meltdown, a political upheaval, an industry contraction, and an 18-month-plus recession.
But we're still here and so are many hardy operators and coachbuilders. Practically no one has been left unscathed by it all -- even the operators "up" over last year have had to think and work outside the box like never before.
So, whereas last year the collective mood was one of dreading the descent into an abyss, with gas over $4 per gallon, at least this year we're all looking up at the light as we climb up out of the hole. I say we, since LCT Magazine has struggled right alongside much of the industry.
With 2010 looming, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic and to be assured the chauffeured transportation and charter and tour industries will emerge stronger and smarter. Here's a random list:
• Royale and Krystal are breaking new ground and building the foundation for future market share with greener vehicles. Some will be on display at LCT East. Commonwealth's Dawson Rutter is banking much of his fleet future on Royale's enhanced Fusion Hybrid L.
• The stretch limousine is not dead, so quit scratching it up by trying to put forks in it. Krystal is manufacturing a CNG 72-inch Town Car stretch with the first batch heading to City Center in Las Vegas. Operators report randomly that stretches -- even in trendy L.A. -- are still being used.
• Ask around and you will find plenty of operators succeeding against the odds: George Jacobs of Windy City Limousine in Chicago; Pierce Fleming of Dynasty Limousine in Jacksonville, Fla. (making money on Hummer stretches); Bill Atkins of Red Bank Limo in Tinton Falls, N.J.; and John Greene of ETS International in Quincy, Mass.
• Buses are getting bigger and more varied. BusCon in Chicago -- put on by LCT's parent company -- recently proved that with record attendance. Operators are seeing immediate rewards with motor- and mini-coaches. Just go ask Charlotte operator H.A. Thompson, an industry veteran always generous with his insights and advice. He'll be at LCT East.
• Sources tell LCT there's lots of pent up demand for vehicles; operators using vehicles daily and weekly can only rack up so many miles on a fleet vehicle until it makes sense to replace it with a new or lightly used one.
• Luxury tastes and demands are not disappearing, at least according to one operator and industry observer who knows: Scott Solombrino of Dav El. Predictions that the U.S. is headed into an era of hand-me-down cheapness are radically overstated. It may take a while to get "back to 1999" but we're not heading to 1937 either.
• The increasing cross-over between "limo" and "bus" can only be a good thing, as it opens new markets, diversifies fleets, and gives clients more choices. They can be frugal with buses until they feel safe splurging on luxury again.
• Going "group-ground" is gaining cachet in transportation circles as many members of the traveling public come to appreciate the advantages of leaving the driving to someone else. Look for big gains in coming years in the motorcoach segment. Is anyone ready to proclaim, "We are all people-movers now?"
That's just a generic slice of the iceberg list; there are plenty of knowledgeable participants, seminar speakers, and NLA members who can provide more and sharper insights at LCT East. Not to mention all the tips, ideas, and new ways of doing things.
It's not too late: For more information on the 2009 LCT Eastern Conference, CLICK HERE.
The LCT staff hopes to see all of you there.
-- Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine