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Former Marriott International executive Edwin Fuller speaking at the International LCT Show in Las Vegas, Wednesday, March 18, 2015. (Photo by LCT)
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — The way to gain new business as outlined by keynoter Edwin Fuller relates to an old rule of serving clients: “If you take care of your associates, then associates will take care of customers, and customers will come back again.”
Fuller, President of Laguna Strategic Advisors, a global business consulting firm, and former President and Managing Director of Marriott International, offered multiple strategies and reasons for operators to remain optimistic, despite the competitive influx of transportation network companies (TNCs).
In his March 18 keynote presentation at the Show, he explained how operators who emphasize a clear company culture and values will more likely appeal to a growing international clientele headed to the U.S.
Global Growth Ahead
Business travel has returned to the levels of 2006-2007, said Fuller, who worked for Marriott International for 42 years, with 22 years in international markets. “Global tourism is really on a growth pattern and will continue in the coming year.” He cited numbers showing that world tourism creates 274 million jobs and $7.3 trillion in economic output, or 10% of the world’s economy.
The number one destination for international travelers is the U.S., then the United Kingdom, Thailand, Italy, China and Germany. Domestic travel destinations ranked in order of California, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.
Much of the demand and focus on international tourism is driven by China. In Orange County, Calif., for example, where Fuller lives and works, Chinese visitors are projected to be the leading source of tourism spending. About 100 million Chinese citizens will travel outside mainland China this year, and 200 million by 2020. The number visiting the U.S. annually is expected to climb from 1.5 million to 7.5 million during the next five years.
“They have a voracious hunger for many things, and a large contingent is interested in luxury travel,” Fuller said. “They enjoy retailing experiences. We know today they get better deals buying goods here despite the stronger dollar.”
To underscore the point, Fuller said, “The Chinese do not feel comfortable driving in the U.S. They are potential customers, and many don’t know how to dial up Uber.”
Fuller summed up the chauffeured transportation industry’s potential by praising the local limousine provider he uses weekly. The small operation is not the cheapest, nor the one with the fanciest vehicles. But the friendships and service attention he gets from favored chauffeurs are priceless.
As in the hotel business and other service industries, little details matter to clients, said Fuller, referring to the on-time standards, bottled waters and backseat mints as chauffeured examples.
“I get humor, a good story, and I can depend on them,” Fuller said. “If I need to sleep, I never hear a sound. I buy personalities. . . I know that when I get a car it’s clean, on time and I have a trust relationship with the person in that car.”
For out of town chauffeured service, Fuller relies on major affiliate networks that have strongly branded reputations, although he doesn’t know who is wearing the suit behind the wheel.
Fuller likened good branding to what he’s observed for decades in the hotel industry. “When you go to a Marriott hotel, you can depend on that hotel. Yes, we all make mistakes, but the fact of the matter is, Marriott gives you a more consistent experience.” Hotel chains succeed based on the consistency of their reservation and referral system and quality controls.
While working at Marriott International, Fuller’s leadership resulted in more than 80,000 new jobs worldwide, 555 hotels opening in 72 countries, and $8 billion in annual sales. He documented many of his lessons learned over the years in his book, “You Can’t Lead With Your Feet On The Desk.”
“Once people saw brand hotels, they became familiar with brands in other locations, and demand went up,” Fuller said. “People tend to go with what they know.
“We have to convince customers we have what they want,” he added. “If you are a small operator, and you are not branded, and you want to get business from other parts of the country or the world, then be part of a system that gives you access.”
LCT Q&A: Hotel Exec Shows Global Route To Chauffeured Service