LAS VEGAS, Nev. — The rain and sleet poured into the Las Vegas basin Wednesday, as if to flush out the gloom of the worst year for the chauffeured transportation industry in two decades. After the rain, came the cool, crisp air of clarity in an area more known for a dry heat that can quickly dehydrate a throat into sandpaper.
The weather on the final day of of the 2010 International LCT Show seemed to complement the vibe and ambiance of the event, which collectively confirmed an industry comeback amid the chill of some new realities. But that chill, far from being a crippling cold, is more like pool water set at 76 degrees — everyone jumps in, flinches and hops, gets used to it, and then swims faster.
And so it goes for operators coming out of the severe recession of 2009. The motives to swim faster to survive were evident at the packed affiliate speed meets, the brisk foot traffic on the trade show floor through Wednesday, the practical tips and pointed questions during the educational sessions, and the reality games at Monday night’s competitive Survivor party.
By the numbers, attendance at the Show tracked higher than in 2009, although the number of exhibitors was down. [Final counts will be available soon]. Coachbuilders reported more interest, leads, and actual floor sales than last year. Like 2009, the International LCT Show was held at the Palazzo/Venetian Resort Hotels/Casinos and convention center, which provides a level comparison.
The industry awards ceremony and gala Tuesday night was shorter and more focused, with a five-piece jazz group playing upbeat tunes that packed plenty of zip. Adjacent to a black stage backdrop of colored planets and twinkling stars, gala-goers saw a twin-big screen photo loop of attendees and convention antics, themed appropriately enough to the Beatles’ hit, “Here Comes The Sun.”
Some hopeful highlights from International LCT Show 2010:
• At the opening of the Show on Monday, LCT Publisher and Show Chair Sara Eastwood told the industry it had survived a luxury industry disaster, referring of course to the two-year recession and business travel slowdown that plunged operator revenues as much as 50% and coachbuilder revenues 60-80% in 2009. “We are coming out of the rubble and putting our lives back together,” Eastwood said. She offered operators three quick steps going forward: “Sell like Hell,” pay off debt, and upgrade your services. While no quick fix, and with much hard work ahead, at least the worst is over, she said.
• One area of the industry that kept growing during 2009 was Internet-based booking and sales leads. Doug Anderson, vice president of limo lead-generator Limos.com, said the market opportunities for online bookings will hit an accelerated critical mass as upwardly mobile, always-wired, socially networked consumers make more commercial use of home, office, and portable connections to the Internet. The Internet population worldwide already stands at 1.7 billion, with 80% of the developed world connected to broadband. To survive and succeed, operators must pursue and win over online what Anderson calls “GTD customers — Get Things Done”: affluent, always connected, and busy.
• In a rousing opening keynote speech, former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann gave a spell-binding account about the pain of loss, the lessons of humility, and the power of a comeback through transformation. He spoke to a standing room only meeting hall, with several references to providing good customer service for chauffeured transportation clients. Theismann encouraged operators and vendors to embrace change instead of dreading it, and to figure out how to make it work for them.
• Veteran NBC News economics correspondent Mike Jensen told attendees Wednesday morning that there is only a “20% chance” of a double-dip recession based on a reasoned analysis of the latest economic data. Jensen sees some tough slogging ahead for the economy in a “U-shaped” recession and recovery, but overall, the economy has pulled back from the edge and is on course to grow moderately in 2010 with a projected GDP growth rate of about three percent. Corporate profits should grow about 25% in 2010.
• At the all-day board meeting of the National Limousine Association Sunday, board members were encouraged by a political presentation from industry lobbyists Louie Perry and Greg McDonald that closely followed the upset victory Jan. 19 of Republican Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race. That race has split Democrats, snatched their filibuster-proof Senate majority, and radiated electoral shock waves nationwide. Looking toward 2010, the aggressive and liberal Obamagenda now appears impotent, if not neutered, with more politicians heeding the growing backlash from business interests and the citizenry, as a possible GOP blowout election night approaches in November. Perry explained how issues that once spooked the industry — Employee Free Choice Act, government directed health care, climate change legislation, anti-business travel measures — are likely to be stymied and/or stripped down.
• Finally, what convention wouldn’t seem more hopeful without some occasional humorous shenanigans? During Tuesday night’s semi-formal gala ceremony, multiple heads turned toward the open bar at the rear of the banquet hall as two women cackled and squealed in front of the amused bartenders. Apparently, one woman had been trying to take shots of liquor from a glass nestled between the other woman’s supportive breasts. Regardless of what one thinks of the propriety, or sobriety, of such a scene, it at least signaled that more good times for the industry are likely ahead.
Source: Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine