Pharmaceutical meetings were money makers for transportation companies during the past decade. As new medications were introduced to the marketplace, pharmaceutical companies brought members of the medical community together to educate them or to get them to participate in trials.
At airports, chauffeurs held signs that said “investigator’s meeting” with a logo from the drug company. Individuals who came to these meetings were given royal treatment. Resorts in Miami Beach were taken over by the attendees of these meetings, with many rides scheduled as one person per vehicle. In the evenings, there were dine-arounds, where guests were taken to top-rated restaurants.
Flash forward to today. Perception is reality and the new reality is to down play. Medical meetings are no longer what they used to be. Medical professionals don’t want their clients to see their names on rosters of boondoggle trips. The rules are always changing. In August, some states will enact the Sunshine Act for pharmaceutical reporting which puts even greater scrutiny on reporting and disclosure. The Pharma Code changed the game a few years ago but the Sunshine Act will change it again.
Mitch Bornstein, senior vice president of Urban Ride in New York, has spent the past eight years catering to pharmaceutical meetings. Urban Ride manages the ground transportation for meetings and events including staffing and transportation desks at venues.
“We are definitely seeing changes in how these meetings are occurring,” he says. “Where before, we took people to resort properties, we now see events at hotels attached to airports. They are no longer in resort cities but instead in airport hub cities like Chicago and Dallas. There is no need at all for ground when the event is at a hotel attached to the airport. We can supply only greeters to walk the guests to the venues.”
The size of events also has been scaled back, Bornstein says. “We did groups before that would have hundreds of attendees all flying into a city from across the globe. Now we see regional events where we are only transporting the speakers to the venue and all of the attendees are local. We also see smaller groups of say five or six people who are putting together webinars. Instead of bringing the attendees and speakers together we will only bring in the speakers.”
Urban Ride works closely with meeting planners, who face more challenges in planning events for the medical and pharmaceutical meetings markets.
“They are still holding them but they are being much more scrutinized over billing and what is acceptable,” he says. “They now need to account for items on an individual basis. So if you are transporting a group on a bus, you may need to tell them how much it costs per rider. Before they may have all piled on the bus, now you will need to know exactly how many seats are occupied.”
Bornstein believes that medical meetings are still a solid source of business for ground transportation companies, but that these services need to up their game. “It’s more important than ever to make sure that the customer’s experiences are impeccable. Pay attention to the details and note all of the changes. With less of this business available, levels of service are key. If the client needs 10-minute out calls, you can’t miss a single one. If there are changes on the fly, you must communicate with the appropriate people in the client’s organization. We have to perform better than we ever did to keep this business.”
With health care costs rising and health care policy at the forefront of national politics, the medical industry’s demand for meetings definitely will not subside, Bornstein says. “But I do believe that there will be even more changes in how pharma companies need to do business. It will be our ability to adapt to those changes and make it as easy as possible for the meeting planners in this arena to be successful. Those are the companies that will succeed.”